When I started at Julia’s House - 16 years ago today- all I had was a pen, a notebook, a computer - and a lot of passion. It felt like an amazing opportunity but also a huge responsibility.
I was a children’s community nurse when I saw an advert for nurses to set up a small hospice service in Dorset.
An inspirational nurse called Julia Perks had identified the lack of support for families with life-limited children and was determined to do something about it. Sadly she died before her dream could become a reality, but her legacy was to inspire her friends to take up the cause.
Ali with life president Mike Wise, founder of Julia's House
I joined another paediatric nurse Karen Dale and together we set about the groundwork to pilot this new service. The starting date for our new job was April 1st - the irony was not lost on us! We worked in an office over our Poole charity shop in those days. It was an interesting and satisfying journey, but also a very steep learning curve – planning the logistics and sorting out how families would be referred.
A young Nurse Ali at work
Back then, just as now, our service is almost entirely dependent on fundraising and donations so we even pitched in with the fundraising. I didn’t expect wearing a Red Arrows flying suit, competing in Ironman competition or wearing a SpongeBob Squarepants onesie to be part of my working life! We expected to be set up and ready to start the service by the autumn but then we got our first referral - a child whose family needed care quickly. They were at crisis point and couldn’t wait, so we fast-tracked the launch to June.
This was the beginning of what was to be a very flexible and responsive service – something we are proud of today.
Soon there were far more children than Karen and I could cope with and we started recruiting for other care team members.
Back then we were exclusively a community service – this was long before the arrival of the physical hospice buildings – and still accounts for 65% of the care we offer today. Families love being able to dip in and out of hospice sessions, but having care that comes to your doorstep is such a bonus when your child doesn’t travel well or you live in a remote location.
Ali Acaster hoovering at the opening of the Dorset hospice
It is wonderful privilege when families allow us to be part of their home life in this way and part of being a completely flexible service that is tailored to each family.
Ten years on from the launch of our Dorset service we realised there were families living just over the border in Wiltshire who had no access to help… next stop Wiltshire!
It is amazing to think that was six years ago. We started the Wiltshire service in much the same way that Karen and I started in those early Dorset days – two nurses working just in the south of the county to start with, and then spreading out in response to a growing demand for care.
Now we offer bespoke care right across Dorset and Wiltshire. At last count there were 166 families registered for care with more referrals coming in every day.
I am so extraordinary proud of what we have managed to achieve, thanks to public support. Little did any of us realise what one woman’s dream was to blossom into!