THIS year marks a major anniversary for Colchester’s St Helena Hospice.

It is 30 years since it officially launched the Joan Tomkins Day Centre at its Highwoods headquarters - a day those who were lucky enough to be there will never forget.

Princess Diana followed in the footsteps of a number of Royal visitors to the site in order to declare the much-needed facility open.

The hospice itself opened at Myland Hall in 1985, following years of fundraising to make the dream a reality, with Dr Elizabeth Hall as its director.

In her work at Essex County Hospital she had already begun to think the town needed a hospice, to provide end of life care for patients and their families, and attended the first meeting towards this scheme at the Town Hall in 1979.

She quickly became chair of the steering committee and work began towards setting up a charity and finding premises.

Once Myland Hall was secured, palliative care actually began long before the hospice opened, with Macmillan funding two nurses.

The hospice was officially launched by the Queen Mother a year later in 1986, one of a number of important visitors who have set foot in the grounds over the years as our archive images reveal.

The funds for the day centre were generously donated by Robin Tomkins in memory of his wife Joan who was cared for at the hospice.

As part of the 30th anniversary year their daughter Nicola returned to the building with her partner Dave Gower.

Nicola remembers the Royal opening well and Diana shaking hands with her entire family.

“It was a great atmosphere. The original thought from the crowds was, what’s she going to be wearing?

“Diana got out of the car and everybody thought she looked taller and slimmer than they had imagined.

“We were all very proud of the day and that the building was in memory of my mother.

“It was something Dad desperately wanted to do for the hospice and it is very much needed in the area. It is a lasting memory to my mother, and I think that is important to the whole family.”

Volunteer ward helper Sarah Orr was also there that day. At the time she was a staff nurse at the hospice.

“The patients were terribly excited by the visit but completely overawed.

“The idea was that after the initial introductions, Princess Diana would come to the tables where we had patients sitting in groups of threes and fours with a member of staff.

“When she came to my table she and I had a very nice conversation together and she was utterly delightful. “I do remember her being amazingly relaxed.”

The centre continues to be at the heart of many of St Helena’s activities, therapies, counselling, and peer groups.