THE founder of the world’s first children's hospice has been rewarded for her decades of dedication, with a lifetime achievement award.

Sister Frances Dominica founded Helen House,which has helped thousands of families with terminally ill children, in Leopold Street, Oxford, in 1982.

She was honoured for her efforts with a Help the Hospices and National Gardens Scheme Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony in Manchester.

She was given her award by former Home Secretary and Help the Hospices chairman Michael Howard, and George Plumptre, chief executive of the National Gardens Scheme.

Sister Frances, 69, said: “It is a great honour to receive this award.

“I think of the thousands of children, young people and their families who have walked through the doors of Helen & Douglas House over the last 30 years and who have taught us so much.

“It has been team work and I am immensely grateful to all the staff, volunteers and supporters who have brought my original dream to reality.

“The greatest reward is when a family says to us, thank you, you have made a difference.”

The hospice was born after Sister Frances met the parents of a girl called Helen Worswick who had a brain tumour and needed 24-hour care. Once Helen had been discharged from hospital Sister Frances began looking after her so her parents could have a break – and the idea was born.

Sister Frances said: “We didn’t really know who would use it or whether anybody would use it at all.

“It started relatively slowly and it was mostly word of mouth from parent to parent that meant we had more and more children referred to us.”

The children’s hospice movement has since spread across the world, with children’s hospices now open in all five continents.

In 2004, Sister Frances opened Douglas House, the first specialist hospice for young adults aged 16 to 35, because she realised more and more young children with life-shortening conditions were living longer.

The award comes just a week after the charity marked its 30th anniversary.

Help the Hospices chief executive David Praill said: “These awards are a celebration of the innovative and inspiring work taking place in hospices across the UK.”


SISTER Frances was born Frances Ritchie in Inverness in 1942.

She lived with her grandfather, a Church of Scotland elder, and her mother in Greenock until she was four. Once her father was demobbed after the Second World War she moved with her family to Petersham in Surrey.

She started training as a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London in 1961. But after meeting an Anglican vicar she realised she wanted to be a nun and joined the Society of All Saints Sisters of the Poor which moved to East Oxford in 1976.

It was after being elected mother superior in 1977 that she began her work which led to the creation of Helen House.

In 2006 Sister Frances was given an OBE and in 2007 she was named Woman of the Year for her work.