Once upon a time, a beautiful and desperately ill young girl made three very special wishes. She left a little red box at her
bedside where they were found - with messages of love for her family and her young husband - after she died on New Year’s
Day, 1996. Donna Curtis had just turned 20. She had spent her last four years fighting cancer. In that time Donna saw the
suffering of many terminally ill children, and vowed her legacy would help them live a little more happily in the time they had
left. Her parents, Len and Barbara Curtis, have made it their labour of love to fulfil their only daughter’s fairytale dream -
as a lasting tribute to her courage (and if truth be known theirs). Len, chairman of the resort’s private hoteliers'
association admits, ”I was ready to jump off a pier. My family businesses, it all suffered. It’s a wonder we didn’t go under.”
Instead, they set about making the dream of their late daughter a reality.
Donna’s Dream House is a holiday home for children with life-threatening or terminal illnesses, situated in the heart of the
town, on Chapel Street, Blackpool. Once a derelict hotel, which was volunteered by the Council for a peppercorn rent, the property is now a haven by which any child would be overwhelmed. The keys were handed over on Donna’s birthday, and Len and Barbara’s 35th wedding anniversary, which the couple found particularly moving. Most of the facilities of the house have been donated, and many local businesses, hoteliers, nightclub owners, cafe proprietors, shopkeepers and well meaning individuals provide help wherever possible, including raising much-needed cash which helps with the ongoing running costs of the house.
The house consists of four family apartments, all with themed rooms for absolute escapism. Themes include Winnie the Pooh’s Den, Cartoon World, Teddy Bear World and a Tangerine Room decked out with Blackpool Football Club merchandise. All the guests are invited to enjoy the decor of the communal rooms, including a ‘must-see-to-believe’ circus room complete with a steam train encircling the ceiling, and a wonderful Disney room, bursting at the seams with fantastic teddies, soft toys and murals. Many toys have been supplied by specialist charities or retail outlets - such as Blackpool’s Disney shop branch. Families visiting the house will also receive a pack of tickets for the Tower, the Sealife Centre, Tussards, Blackpool Zoo, the Model Village, Mermaid Cafe and more, again, all kindly donated by the town's businesses.
As well as each family having their own ‘apartment’, there is a fabulous garden area to the rear of the house. Volunteers from The Prince's Trust took up the challenge of designing and constructing the barbecue patio area, and there are even some huge flowers donated by the Illuminations Department. There’s a car park, and possibly the most poignant room of the house, is a pretty wooden chapel-like quiet room, set on its own grounds. Soft music plays on entry; there are poems of remembrance and other beautiful features. This is “where children can be laid to rest, or parents can go to scream” Len explains, with honesty born of experience. The next phase of the house is to build a bereavement centre, where parents and relatives can go to be with others in similar situations - for help, or guidance or even just to let off steam.
The Dream House encourages and sparks the imagination. It’s how any child would imagine the perfect holiday to be. It’s full of light and laughter, fun and - most importantly - life. The majority of parents of the seriously ill children that visit are all too familiar with sterile environments, serious faces, and the looming certainties, which make each moment precious, and each day together a gift. As Len said, whilst the families are enjoying their stay, the house is about living, not dying. This charity has already helped almost 380 families, since the original Dream House holiday flats on Highfield Road opened in 1999. The heartbreaking fact is that 300 of those children have now sadly passed away, but the families who are left behind will always cherish the memories from Donna’s Dream House.
Donna Curtis, was a bright, vivacious and clever young woman. She knew the greatest task that she set her parents would help them come to terms with her death - and would help others in a similar situation. The new Donna’s Dream House is a tribute to her insight and sensitivity - and to the courage of the Curtis family.