Rugby ‘If children’s hospices like this one didn’t exist, I don’t know how we’d cope’

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Rugby Former rugby player Tamara Taylor with Emilia Lawson at Zoe's Place hospice Wooden Spoon
Former rugby player Tamara Taylor with Emilia Lawson at Zoe’s Place hospice

Asadour Guzelian 

“It’s been an emotional day, but a joyful day,” reflects Tamara Taylor, the 115-times capped England Women’s Rugby World Cup winner.

We’ve spent the morning at Zoë’s Place Baby Hospice in Middlesbrough, meeting baby Emilia Lawson (who celebrated her first birthday on Nov 18 with her elder sisters Annabel, 10, and Penny, six) and her mother, Lynne Lawson.

Today, Emilia is smiling contentedly, cuddling her toys and relaxing on a bean bag in the sensory playroom as Tamara and the paediatric nurses – who provide her with one-on-one care for 24 hours, once a week – fuss over her.

It wasn’t always this way: Emilia suffered a severe brain injury at birth, and it has taken what Lynne describes fondly as “the proverbial village” of Zoë’s Place to raise the happy baby we meet today.

“I honestly don’t know where we would be if we didn’t have Zoë’s,” says Lynne. “We’d hit a wall and I almost felt we’d failed, giving in to the idea of taking her to a hospice. The first time I arrived, I was crying. But it’s a little piece of heaven on earth, loving and caring. We were instantly at ease, and she’s improved so much since she began her visits.”

Projects such as Zoë’s Place, which provides palliative, respite and end-of-life care to babies like Emilia, with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions, need all the help they can get. It is funded with help from Wooden Spoon, one of three charities supported by the Telegraph’s Christmas appeal.

The rugby community’s children’s charity, Wooden Spoon raises money for a variety of projects that support sick, disabled and disadvantaged young people all over the UK. Tamara is here in her role as honorary president of Wooden Spoon Durham.

Zoë’s Place is the UK’s only hospice dedicated solely to infants from birth to the age of five. A community service with no catchment area, Zoë’s can accept a child from anywhere who meets the criteria – though families tend to be from the North East. It opened in 2004 with a capacity of four full-time, and now has the capacity to care for up to six infants overnight at a time, and more on rotation throughout the day, depending on what each family needs.

Tamara, who now plays for Darlington Mowden Park (the Sharks), has visited Zoë’s Place before in her role as Wooden Spoon ambassador. In May, she took part in the highest-altitude game of contact rugby ever at Mount Everest’s advanced base camp to raise more than £250,000 in donations.

“Zoë’s is a special, home-from-home place, not at all clinical or sad, like you might expect a babies’ hospice to be,” she says. “It’s such an honour to be

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