Birmingham Women’s Hospital has started work on its new standalone baby and pregnancy loss bereavement centre with a special sod-cutting ceremony attended by the families it will help.

Woodland House - the first of its kind in a UK hospital setting - will be a safe haven for families experiencing the heartbreak of pregnancy and baby loss at the hospital, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy maternity unit, allowing families to grieve in private.

The bereavement centre is completely charitably funded, with Birmingham Women’s Hospital Charity recently reaching the £3m target for its Woodland House Appeal, allowing work to begin.

The sod-cutting ceremony was a chance for some of the bereaved families, who have been instrumental in shaping the new centre, to come together and celebrate this milestone with key supporters, who have generously donated to help make Woodland House a reality. They were joined by colleagues at the hospital, who have championed the need for better aftercare for families going through this tragic experience.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, proud chief executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, welcomed all the attendees, before the first shovel went into the ground. She said: “This is a momentous day for our hospital and we will be eternally grateful to everyone who has donated and allowed us to make our vision for Woodland House a reality.

“As a society, we have been silent on the subject of pregnancy and baby loss for too long and our bereaved families deserve better. Woodland House is a force for change, championing improved bereavement care locally, nationally and internationally, and we are exceptionally proud to be the first hospital in the NHS recognising and honouring loss in this way."

The charity’s Woodland House Appeal was unveiled three years ago in 2019. At the launch was Lynette Parkes and Leon James, who shared their heartbreaking experiences of baby loss at the hospital. They were both back to see the first shovel in the ground at the sod-cutting ceremony.

Lynette whose baby boy, James, was stillborn seven months into her pregnancy, said: “It’s so wonderful to be back here, and to see how far we’ve come. It can’t be underestimated just what a difference having Woodland House will make to families during the worst time of their lives.

“Having somewhere private, where my husband and I could have spent some time with James as a family, to say goodbye and grieve without the additional distress caused by hearing live babies crying around us, would have offered us some comfort. I’m glad Woodland House will be able to provide that for future families.”   

Full construction work will begin on site in the next few weeks, with building anticipated to finish in autumn 2023. When complete, Woodland House will feature separate and private access from the hospital. It will boast bespoke counselling rooms, a private garden, a large communal lounge area for support groups, and a family room with its own private access and garden. It will also have a private and sensitive viewing room for families returning to see their baby, offering families the opportunity to spend time with their loved ones in comfort and serenity.

Alison Rea, senior bereavement midwife at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, whose team supports grieving families after a loss, said: “We are delighted that work can begin work on this much-needed bereavement centre. A family’s experience in hospital after such a traumatic event can have a lasting impact on them, and while we can’t change the outcome, Woodland House will give our colleagues the tools needed to provide the best possible aftercare."

Bereaved families, staff at the hospital and some of Woodland House’s biggest funders are now creating a book of memories, including messages of hope and reflections. This will be placed in the centre’s foundations within the next few months, as a lasting reminder of why this bereavement centre is so needed.

Fundraising will continue for Woodland House as building starts, and beyond, to continue to make the centre a home away from home space where bereaved families can forget about their surroundings. 

Find out more about the Woodland House Appeal or make a donation online. Or to donate £5, text WOODLAND to 70970 (standard terms apply).