Charity special: Richard House children's hospice
Parents of children with life limiting conditions and complex healthcare needs can often feel very isolated - which is where Richard House Hospice in Newham steps in.
London's first children's hospice has been supporting families since 2000 and continues to increase its services, reaching out to 300 young people across 12 London boroughs.
Alison Smith, from Bow, has been taking her children Josh, 14 and Cara, 11 to Richard House for most of their lives.
The few hours of respite she received when Josh was a toddler were just what she needed.
"When you have a young child with special needs you can hardly leave the house so Richard House was a life saver. It's not like I could leave Josh with friends or family," Alison said.
"I was able to take him to Richard House for one morning or afternoon a week and just take time to clear my head. When Cara was born and the children could stay overnight we were able to have our first night off.
"The hospice is like a home from home, the children have their own bedrooms, the staff are lovely and they receive one-on-one care.
"It's not like leaving them in hospital where they only have time for their medical needs. Richard House also looks after their social ones. They have fun and enjoy themselves."
Richard House provides a number of services free of charge to families whose children have been referred. These include end-of-life care, short breaks, family support and bereavement support.
Alison said: "It is amazing how the hospice has grown with us as a family. Now Josh is a teenager we were worried he might feel he was missing out on things when he stayed but they organised a pizza night for him and his friends a couple of weeks ago and really thought about how they could gear his time around him.
"Cara is very different and likes to be outside doing sporty stuff so that is what they do with her.
"They are able to do things that are not always as easy to be involved with when your child has special needs."
The hospice has moved on since its early development to provide increased support for the whole family.
Alison said: "Over the last couple of years they have been really reaching out to families offering holistic care.
"I attend art therapy for mums and we have formed a mum's group. I like the fact I can just walk in there and everyone knows me. I don't have to explain anything.
"Sometimes having a child with specials need can make you feel like you are in a parallel universe and you don't fit in but it's not like that at Richard House because everyone understands."
The festive season's celebrations have already kicked off at Richard House with two parties last weekend. The centre will be open throughout Christmas.
Alison said: "We went to the Christmas party and it was great fun. It's really nice to be somewhere where all the children's needs are met. We can't always access regular services in case other children have colds but you know you are in a safe environment.
"It's just really friendly and the kids love going, they get excited about it."
The hospice is always looking for volunteers and has a range of roles available from admin positions to reception shifts, journalism roles and child care. For more information, call Alex South on 020 7540 0237.
Richard House needs to raise £1.75million a year outside of state funding just to keep the hospice open. You can keep up to date with events and fund raising activities via twitter twitter.com/RichardHouseCH or facebook facebook.com/richardhousech.
Go to richardhouse.org.uk.