AS they look back on their time as friends and colleagues, Lynn Albury and Helen Jardine can’t help laughing as they recall the day Prince Charles came to open the hospice where they have worked together for 25 years.

The community had raised £850,000 of the £1m it cost to buy and convert the former Dene House old folks’ home, in Bishop Auckland, before cancer charity, the Macmillan Fund, handed it over to the Butterwick.

Lynn and Helen are the only two original members of staff to still be working at the hospice – Lynn as fundraising administrator, and Helen as the cook – and the time has gone in a blur of tears and laughter.

The plaque in the foyer testifies that the heir to the throne performed the official opening on April 2, 1996, but the hospice, in Woodhouse Close, had received its first patients 10 months earlier.

And despite being planned with military precision, the opening wasn’t without its hiccups. The first mishap came when a sniffer dog, checking out the building, disgraced himself by having a “number two” on the red carpet. The second was even messier. An unidentified member of staff, who had organised the whole affair, had an accident with the new bottle of ink, bought for the Prince of Wales to sign the visitors’ book.

“It went all over her and she had to jump in the car to get down to Dorothy Perkins, in Newgate Street, and buy a new dress,” says Lynn.

Since then, new wings have been added, the gardens have been landscaped, and the hospice has made its mark on thousands of families.

“We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve done all kinds of things over the years, but it’s always been a special place,” says Lynn, below right.

“There’s nothing else round here like it, and that’s why it’s still so important,” adds Helen, below left, who’s made more meals for staff and patients than she cares to remember.

As well as being loyal staff members, Lynn and Helen have had personal experiences of the care the hospice provides. Lynn’s dad, Keith Tweddle – a volunteer driver at the hospice – benefited from home care when suffering from terminal leukaemia. And Helen’s dad, Tommy, was a patient, and also had home care, before dying from lung cancer.

“We couldn’t have coped without the support,” says Helen.

Being such an integral part of the community, it’s inevitable that friends and relatives end up being cared for at the hospice.

“It’s like being part of a big family,” says Lynn. “There’s sadness because we’ve lost staff members, and people we know, but we’ve also had people who go into remission, and we don’t see them again for years.”

Helen recalls a young man called Eddie, a 21-year-old patient who had a tumour. He went into remission and still returns for hospice events 20 years later.

“People think of it as being a place to die but it’s so much more than that – there’s so much life here,” says Lynn.

The staff do as much as possible to make life fun and, over the years, visitors have included birds of prey, snakes, tarantulas, lambs, pat dogs, and even a racehorse called Monty.

“We were promoting a trip to Ascot, and we knew someone with an ex-racecourse, so they brought it down and we all wore posh hats for the photo-shoot,” recalls Lynn.

There’s also an honourable mention for auxiliary nurse Angela Canvin, who’s described as “a star” for regularly dressing up as The Queen, the Easter Bunny, Hallowe’en characters and plenty more besides.

“People have no idea how much goes on behind the scenes, and how much of a difference it makes to so many people,” says Lynn.

Of course, none of it would have happened without Mary Butterwick, who founded the hospice by selling her own home after her husband, John, died of cancer.

“When you think of all the people she’s helped, it’s incredible,” says Helen. “She treated everyone the same, no matter what role you were in. She had no airs and graces.”

Like all charities, Butterwick Hospice Care has been hit hard by the pandemic, and is battling to maintain the services that the charity has been providing in Mary’s name for a quarter of a century.

“What’s important is it’s still here and, hopefully, it’ll be here for another 25 years,” says Lynn.

ENTREPRENEUR Michelle Dowson is adding a touch of style to the Butterwick’s frontline staff amid the pandemic.

When Michelle was made redundant last year, she launched her own personalised embroidery business, The Personal Sugarmouse.

The business, based in Tan Baby – a shop run by her daughter, Ashlee, in Barnard Castle – specialises in personalised clothing and, since the lockdown, personalised face masks for businesses have been in big demand.

To mark the 25th anniversary, she has donated commemorative face masks for the home care team.

Michelle said: “Demand for the face masks has been phenomenal, so it seemed a nice way to support an amazing charity.”

Home care co-ordinator, Joanne Stamp, said: “It’s a lovely gesture and the team will wear the masks with pride.”

To find out more, search for ‘Personal Sugarmouse’ on Facebook.

STICKING with the Butterwick, a big well done to Andrew Hughes, another enterprising supporter of the hospice.

Andrew has raised more than £2,000 through sales of hoodies and t-shirts branded with ‘BISHUUUURP’.

Andrew said: “I only set out to raise £100 but sales have gone through the roof and it’s such a fantastic cause. We’ve even sold t-shirts to people in Australia!”

To order a t-shirt or hoodie, search for Andrew James Hughes AJ on Facebook

THE anniversary can’t pass without paying tribute to Katie Gill, who has volunteered for the hospice at Bishop Auckland for the full 25 years.

For 14 of them, Katie manicured patients’ nails and, until the lockdown, volunteered every Friday in Day Care.

Butterwick Hospice chief executive, Debbie Jones, said: “Without the dedication of amazing people like Katie, the hospice couldn’t continue and I am immensely grateful for everything she does.”

Butterwick Hospice Care has launched a 25th anniversary appeal. An anniversary gift of £25 would fund a counselling session for a bereaved family member, or a home care visit. To make a donation, go to www.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/bishopauckland25