Christmas tree lights are twinkling and carols playing; festive wrapping paper is being ripped from presents just delivered by Santa and the sound of children’s laughter fills the air.
It’s a scene repeated across the nation at this time of year.
But this is no average festive scene – it’s an extra special location where it takes on a particularly poignant meaning.
At Derian House Children’s Hospice, in Chorley, Christmas is celebrated in all its colourful excess – with fairy lights and fake snow, piles of selection boxes and brightly-wrapped gifts, staff in festive garb and an influx of visitors to make the season special.
It’s a far cry from the perception of many that a hospice is a place of muted sadness, of sombre surroundings and hushed voices.
Play specialist Tina Thorpe-Knowles says: “Christmas starts in mid-November for us. It’s a time of excitement and joy for the many children who come to stay with us for respite care as Christmas approaches.
“Where possible, we like to involve the children in choosing and putting up the decorations and we’re never short of volunteers to help us switch on the fairy lights.
“The joy on the faces of children who visit us at this time of year to stay for respite care truly touches your heart. It’s hard not to be caught up in their joy and share their delight when you get a taste of what Christmas truly means to them – a magical celebration of all that’s good in their world despite the many difficulties they often face.
“We have several Christmas parties each year to make sure every child or young person who stays with us or who we visit through Derian At Home – is given the opportunity to enjoy themselves with their family and friends.
“The young people at The Lodge, who can be aged up to 26, certainly don’t want the same celebration as the younger children. They’ll be settling down with a film or music, nibbles and drinks, while the youngsters are raising the roof with their excitement levels over santa."
There is no shortage of visitors keen to make the season one to remember, from football players and pantomime stars to Rusty the donkey from Manchester Donkey Sanctuary.
Fellow play specialist Claire Van Opstal adds: “All families treasure those pictures and crafts that their children come home with from school. For the families of Derian children these hand-made decorations and pictures are even more precious, as they appreciate the effort put in to creating them. They are a prized possession that will come out year after year and take pride of place on the tree or mantelpiece and help to keep precious memories alive.
"Derian is very much about making memories for families to treasure long into the future when times may be much different. It’s about celebrating children’s joy in Christmas and allowing them to make the most of every festive moment they have.
“Anyone who comes through the doors of Derian House at Christmas expecting doom and gloom will be shocked. The hospice is alive with laughter and excitement – it’s a positive lesson in how to enjoy every moment and to make the most of the time you have with those you love.”
For the families it is a break away from reality as each touching festive moment is captured for posterity with lots of photos that will be treasured for years to come.
Caroline Mills, whose sons Michael, 19, and Andrew, 17, are regulars at the centre, says: “Christmas is all about family to us, being together and making memories while we all can, enjoying the whole essence of the season really.
“Michael and Andrew love having fun and doing different things with everyone and we like to make it as action-packed as possible for them!
“At Christmas we will just focus on the happy times. At Christmas we don’t really think about the forthcoming appointments and decisions we have to make. It’s a nice time to forget and just enjoy being a family.”
It’s your donations that help families make these precious memories at Derian House every Christmas and beyond. There are many ways to support Derian House; by organising a fund-raising event, by making a donation, supporting our shops or even donating your time as a volunteer. To find out more call 01257 271271 or visit http://www.derianhouse.co.uk