THIS month marks a special anniversary and eagerly-anticipated royal visit for one of the most invaluable charities in north Essex.

St Helena Hospice helps people face incurable illness and bereavement, supporting them and their families, friends and carers.

April 11, 1986 marked 35 years since Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother visited Colchester to open the inpatient unit in north-east Essex.


Standing to attention - Dr Elizabeth Hall, one of the hospice’s founders and first medical director, and matron Jenny Wayte introduce the royal visitor to some of their nursing team

She gave a short speech to the gathered crowd, made up of volunteers, staff and invited guests, before unveiling a plaque to commemorate the day.

“I am so glad to visit St Helena Hospice, which, as I know, became created through the dedication and generosity of countless supporters in this county and from far afield," said the Queen Mother, who died in 2002.

“The chairman described the hospice as a centre of excellence and I am sure the excellence can be seen not only in this splendid building, but even more in the gentleness, care, skill and understanding of those who work here.


Tea time - staff enjoying their afternoon brew, following the royal visit

“I do pray that everyone who comes to St Helena Hospice will find comfort and peace in these lovely surroundings.”

The royal visitor toured the inpatient unit to look at the facilities and spoke with patients, staff and volunteers.

The hospice had welcomed its first patient, 22-year-old Lisa Brenchley, on May 20, 1985, and Lisa’s parents, Brian and Shirley Brenchley, were introduced at the opening ceremony.


Compassionate - some of the nursing team in the hospice garden

It was an exciting day for the hospice’s current matron, Sue O’Neill, who recalls the day as a young nurse.

She said: "Before she arrived, we had a lesson on etiquette; how to courtesy and address Her Majesty.

"I was in a room with a patient who was enjoying the horse racing on television.


Eager anticipation - St Helena chairman Christopher Holmes accompanies the Queen Mother as she greets the crowd

"The Queen Mother entered just as his horse was nearing the finish line and she waited for it to finish.

"His horse was not the winner and he said a few expletives.

"She said ‘oh, so did you have a bet on that one’, or words to that effect, and they started chatting about horse racing!"


Pleased to meet you - the Queen Mother meets some of the hospice nurses

* Stories of people involved with St Helena Hospice at its beginning are being recorded and preserved, along with historic photos and film clips, for an exhibition and an online archive project supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players.

To share your story and photos, email or call St Helena Hospice’s marketing team on 01206 931464.


Guided tour - Jenny Wayte, the first matron at the hospice, shows the Queen Mother around the new inpatient unit. The nurse looking on from the doorway is Sue O’Neill, who would become the current matron


Check out the view - Dr Elizabeth Hall, one of the hospice’s founders and its first medical director, looks out into the garden, which had been transformed by Margaret Farrow and her team of volunteer gardeners


Saying it with flowers - Wendy Freeman, then 24 and the youngest nurse at the hospice, presents a bouquet


Music maestro - the band of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, plays to those gathered in the grounds of Myland Hall, against a backdrop of building work on the new High Woods housing estate


Speech time - before unveiling a commemorative plaque, the Queen Mother said the hospice had been "created through the dedication and the generosity of countless supporters in this county and from far afield"