Kind-hearted millionaire pumps £40,000 into Donna’s Dream House project

Reopening of Donna's Dream House following a refurbishment financed by several large donations.  Pictured is mayor Kath Rowson, Ken Townsley and Len Curtis
Reopening of Donna's Dream House following a refurbishment financed by several large donations. Pictured is mayor Kath Rowson, Ken Townsley and Len Curtis
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A multi-millionaire who promised to help bankroll projects to improve the lives of youngsters has spoken of his joy at unveiling new five-star facilities for terminally ill children.

A foundation set up by philanthropist Ken Townsley donated £40,000 towards transforming Donna’s Dream House. His cash paid for materials for the revamp of the Chapel Street house, where hundreds of families enjoy holidays each year.

Three shots hots of the refurbished rooms at Donnas Dream House

Three shots hots of the refurbished rooms at Donnas Dream House

The Gazette told earlier this year how the Kentown Wizard Foundation was handing out hundreds of thousands of pounds to charity, with Donna’s Dream House one of the first to benefit.

The former Blackpool Airport baggage handler said: “Anything I can do for local children means I can give a little something back.

“Adults can look after themselves, but children need their dreams to be realised.”

The grant paid for materials, while inmates from Kirkham Prison carried out the improvements as part of their community work programme.

It is like a dream holiday, and you can have trips out as well to places like the Sandcastle, so it is the whole package really.

Len Curtis, who founded Donna’s Dream House in memory of his daughter, said: “The team from Kirkham Open Prison carried out all the labour for free, so I’d say we’ve had an equivalent investment of around £250,000 in total.

“It is 17 years since we opened, and things have changed so we really wanted to bring the house up to modern standards.

“We wanted to create a sense of luxuriousness for the children who come to stay here, and for their brothers and sisters.

“Most of the terminally ill children have only nine to 10 weeks to live, and they can’t go to Disneyland, and that’s why Donna wanted to set this up.

Reopening of Donna's Dream House following a refurbishment financed by several large donations

Reopening of Donna's Dream House following a refurbishment financed by several large donations

“This is not a hospice, it is purely a holiday home to provide those memories to see them through the treasured times that are still in front of them.” Mr Townsley, a former Blackpool Airport baggage handler who went on to launch Gold Medal Travel which he later sold in an £87m deal, is handing out hundreds of thousands of pounds to charity through his foundation. He said: “Anything I can do for local children means I can give a little something back.

“It’s particularly nice to help Donna’s Dream House because I spent much of the early part of my childhood in the Central Drive area. Everything they have done here is everything you could wish for. We are thrilled that children who are in an unfortunate position and need to be taken care of have a holiday home like this to stay in.

“Adults can look after themselves, but children need their dreams to be realised.”

The refurbishment has seen one of two houses at the charity transformed from top to bottom including redecorating, new central heating, wiring and energy efficiency measures.

Reopening of Donna's Dream House following a refurbishment financed by several large donations

Reopening of Donna's Dream House following a refurbishment financed by several large donations

A Disney suite boasts hand-made wallpaper, as well as hoists and electric beds, as well as a bathroom adapted to meet disabled needs.

There is also a Blackpool suite decorated with donkeys, the Big One and the Red Arrows, and a Beach Room, while hand-painted characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves look down from the stairwell.

All the suites include bathrooms, children’s and parent’s bedrooms.

The house also includes a new kitchen and laundry room plus a shared playroom. It is one of two houses on the site, and Len’s next goal is to raise enough money to upgrade the second property which is used by families with teenage children, some of whom are getting over the loss of a child from a terminal illness.

Among the first children to test out the new facilities was six-year-old Scarlett, accompanied by her guardian Rachel Tax.

Scarlett suffers from Neurofibromatosis which means she has tumours growing on her nerve endings and internal organs.

Reopening of Donna's Dream House following a refurbishment financed by several large donations

Reopening of Donna's Dream House following a refurbishment financed by several large donations

Rachel said: “It is a life limiting illness because we don’t know if any of the tumours will become malignant. It could affect her mobility and her sight.

“Coming here means we can have real quality family time away because there is everything here a child could want.

“It is like a dream holiday, and you can have trips out as well to places like the Sandcastle, so it is the whole package really.

“Scarlett has 13 or 14 clinics she has to attend, so there are always hospital appointments. But this gives us chance to forget all that and enjoy a holiday like any other family.”

Dr Katherine Knighting, from the faculty of health at Edge Hill University at Ormskirk, said Donna’s Dream House had recently taken part in a study by the university looking at respite care for children and young adults.

She said: “We have got an increasing number of young people with life limiting conditions who are surviving into adulthood, but there are limited resources and places where they can be offered respite or holiday services.

“Donna’s Dream House is offering a wonderful place for families to come and have a holiday or a break.”

Donna’s Dream House was founded by Len and Barbara Curtis in response to the last wishes of their daughter Donna who died on New Year’s Day 1996, aged 20, after a four year fight against cancer.

She had seen the suffering of many terminally ill children and her legacy was to bring some happiness to the time they had left. As well as the holiday accommodation, the site has a sweet and ice-cream parlour, a carousel, a little cinema and a memorial garden.

The Snowdrop Centre is for families who have suffered the loss of a child in the previous two years.

It costs around £250,000 a year to run Donna’s Dream House, which relies solely on donations and volunteers.

The charity hosts 1,600 family visits a year, with between four and five families able to stay at anyone one time in each house.

Other families can be accommodated in nearby hotels, while there is a house in Torquay which can be used by Fylde families.