Zoe's Place - Baby Hospice

In December, 2001 the Leadership Team decided that Crossbeck Convent would be leased to the Life Association and be converted into a Life Centre and Baby Hospice to serve the needs of the north east of the country.

Although the Sisters were very sad at having to leave the house which had been part of Mercy history since 1919 they knew that the best people to have it next was the Life Association. To grant the lease of the building to this group was very much in keeping with the philosophy of the Congregation which is to try to make sure that properties we can no longer use because of the age profile and falling numbers of the sisters, are used as far as possible for works covered by our ethos of Mercy.

In 1919 the Sisters moved from very cramped accommodation in South Bank to the spacious beauty of Crossbeck House, so called because in order to gain access to the property you had to cross the beck which is the local word for a small river. In later years the beck was piped underground and came out at the corner of the field which stood at the side of the house and was acquired at the same time. A two hundred year old stone house with windows reaching almost to the ground, set in seven acres of mature garden made a pleasant change for the sisters who moved from South Bank, a property which was later demolished to make way for the car park at Asda.

The field was regularly rented out to local farmers and it was not unusual to see cows or horses grazing beside the house in close proximity to the main road. Nor was it unknown for there to be phone calls to the Convent on Saturday nights when people living along the main road saw the cows or horses roaming free, having been released by some merrymaker on the way home from the local hostelry the worse for drink!

The Sisters had been using parts of this land for local needs since the middle of the eighties when part of the extensive garden was partitioned for use by young unemployed people for learning market gardening. After this, the field was the first parcel of land to be assigned for development and was given over to local housing needs. It is interesting to note that when the developers moved in and the grass was cut rather than grazed by animals the medieval ploughing lines could still be seen.

The section of the garden towards the front of the property where previously copious amounts of vegetables had been grown and mostly given away to the poor, was developed as a housing complex for elderly and infirm people who could still maintain some independence. And yet such was the size of the garden that neither of these developments had any detrimental effect on the outlook from the house.

But the end of the Sisters living in Crossbeck had to be faced and it was with a mixture of regret and resignation that they moved from the property at the end of 2001 and dispersed around other houses of the Institute. The factor which made this bearable was that the Life Association was to have the property and turn it into a Life Centre and Baby Hospice. The new name of the house was to be “Zoe’s Place”,

In December, 2001 the Leadership Team decided that Crossbeck Convent would be leased to the Life Association and be converted into a Life Centre and Baby Hospice to serve the needs of the north east of the country. Although the Sisters were very sad at having to leave the house which had been part of Mercy history since 1919 they knew that the best people to have it next was the Life Association. To grant the lease of the building to this group was very much in keeping with the philosophy of the Congregation which is to try to make sure that properties we can no longer use because of the age profile and falling numbers of the sisters, are used as far as possible for works covered by our ethos of Mercy.

Much fundraising has been done to enable the house to be turned into a Hospice which would meet the requirements of the Care Standards. Several times the Management Team thought they were nearly there but were disappointed. They had hoped to be open to accept the first babies before the end of 2003 but it was mid-January 2004 before all the tests were passed and the end of January before the first babies were able to be accepted.

The house has been transformed and in some parts it is hard to recognise where you are. Generally with some few changes the upstairs part of the old house has been turned into offices and the administration centre. Upstairs in the “new” block, built in 1933, there are rooms for families and a beautiful bereavement room where parents can mourn the death of their child in peaceful and dignified surroundings.

The old refectory and kitchen area downstairs has been transformed into playroom and sleeping accommodation for the babies and it is hard to remember where you are with 101 Dalmatians and characters from “The Jungle Book” and “Winnie the Pooh” gazing down from the walls. According to the Nurse Manager, Sue, the jungle room is a great favourite with the children! All the art work has been lovingly done by the staff to save vital funds.

Storerooms and pantry at the back of the house have been almost miraculously turned into bathrooms with suitably adapted bath for ease of use with sick, young children and there is a portable baby bath which can be pushed to anywhere in the house when the need arises. It is a bright and attractive room and very user friendly with many coloured reasons for wanting to stay in the water and play! Full marks must be given to the architect and those who planned the whole of these very beautiful adaptations to an old though beautiful house.

The entrance hall has had a face lift and is a warm and welcoming area which leads immediately into a large meeting room and a smaller, comfortable room where interviews can be held with people in difficulty. 

A multi sensory room with coloured lights which revolve and send patterns onto the walls and carpet, tactile objects such as different textures of furnishings and decorations and sounds including a bath-like structure full of plastic balls which vibrate when the sound is turned on and so benefit profoundly deaf children make this room a plethora of delights. 

When complete it will be a model of a perfect home from home for the special babies who are catered for here.  I am sure that all the Sisters who ever lived in Crossbeck will be delighted when they see what is being achieved here.  Mercy work is most certainly being continued in Zoe’s Place, the Life Association baby hospice in the former Crossbeck Convent.  We ask that God will bless all the work of the Life Association and enable many babies and their grieving parents to be helped.