St Helena Hospice is remembering a special visit from Diana, Princess of Wales.

The people’s princess officially opened the Joan Tomkins day centre on 26th April 1988, where she captivated patients, hospice volunteers and staff, along with the hundreds gathered to catch a glimpse, as she smiled and shook hands with many.

Among those in attendance was Robin Tomkins, the Frinton businessman who generously funded the day centre in memory of his wife, Joan. Robin remembers:

“My wife Joan died of cancer in 1985 and she had quite difficult last six months. I was very lucky I had the resources to give her the backup that was necessary. My sister in law was a trained nurse and Joan had a wonderful GP who called twice a day. We also had the support of a brilliant Macmillan nurse.

“My wife was anxious to die at home and we had the necessary resources that made her comfortable.

“I realised how difficult it was for people less well resourced to deal with the situation. After Joan’s death, I wished to do something to help less fortunate people who had been on a similar journey.

“I got in touch with the Macmillan nurse and said, what could I do to help people? She said what they really wanted at the hospice was a day centre where people could go to while they were having problems and also to give support to families.

“I went to see the chairman of the hospice, Chris Holmes, and together we agreed on the provision of the day centre. I then went to Alan Hills, the building contractor, and he designed and built the day centre.

“The day Princess Diana opened it was a memorable day, all my family were there, my children and my grandchildren. It was very well attended and Princess Diana was very, very good with the patients. She sat down with them and had empathy with them. Extremely good.

“There were people sitting either side of her reading their poetry to her. She had a great gift with people.

“I was delighted to see the day centre being used, it gave me a warm feeling. I did something good for a change! I was a property developer; nobody loves a property developer!

“The heart of the hospice is the people working there, the volunteers, the nurses; they have a very difficult job. It is all about people and they are the most brilliant people there, they are dedicated, they do a very difficult job. I couldn't speak highly enough for them.

“Buildings are nothing else but inanimate, but the staff are absolutely wonderful.”

Diana, Princess of Wales, spent half an hour inside the Joan Tomkins day centre chatting to patients, volunteers and staff. 

Pearl Wheat (pictured), who attended the day centre once a week, presented the royal visitor with a selection of poems about life and death written by patients and relatives.

After spending time inside the day centre, the people’s princess emerged to meet the crowd lining the driveway up to the hospice inpatient unit, before going inside to meet patients and staff.

Nurse John Garbett (pictured) recalls:

“I was in the nursing station with all the girls around me and Princess Diana came in and made a beeline straight for me. 

"She came up to me and said ‘good morning’, and I said good morning and she said ‘how do you keep all this lot under control’ and I said with great difficulty ma’am, with great difficulty.”

Stories of people involved with St Helena Hospice at its very beginning are being recorded and preserved, along with historic photographs and film clips, for an exhibition and an online archive project supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to National Lottery players.

To share your story and photos, in the first instance email or call St Helena Hospice’s marketing team on 01206 931 464, for information on how to contribute to the project.

Contact Information

To contact the St Helena Fundraising team, please telephone 01206 931 468 or email , Monday to Friday between 9.00am and 5.00pm.


To contact the St Helena Retail team, for enquiries about our shops, donation centre and house clearance service please telephone 01206 890 165.


24 hour advice: SinglePoint 01206 890 360

SinglePoint is a 24/7 advice and support helpline which helps to coordinate an individual’s care with the hospice. SinglePoint also works alongside other healthcare services such as GPs, Community Nurses or Specialists.

The Hospice

To contact a patient at The Hospice please find the address and telephone number below. Phone calls can be made to patients at any time of the day or week. You can contact Inpatient Services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Hospice, Myland Hall, Barncroft Close, Highwoods, Colchester, C04 9JU

Telephone: 01206 845 566

Hospice in the Home

You can contact The Hospice in the Home Team Monday to Friday, between 9.00am and 5.00pm on:

Colchester/Halstead team
Telephone: 01206 845 566

Tendring community team
Telephone: 01255 221 222

Day Therapies

You can contact the Joan Tomkins Centre (Colchester) Monday to Friday between 9.00am and 5.00pm on:

Telephone: 01206 848 163

Fax: 01206 752 245

You can contact the St Helena Tendring Centre (Clacton) Monday to Friday, between 9.00am and 5.00pm on 01255 221 222

Tendring Centre Postcode for Sat Navs: CO15 1EU

Human Resources

The HR Team can be contacted Monday to Friday between 9.00am and 5.00pm on 01206 931 466

Finance Team

To contact the St Helena Finance Team please telephone 01206 931 450 Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm

Volunteer Services Team

The Volunteer Services team can be contacted Monday to Friday between 9.00am and 5.00pm on 01206 931 466

Media Enquiries

For all media enquiries between 9.00am and 5.00pm, Monday to Friday, please phone the Marketing and Communications team directly on 01206 931 464

Patient Referrals

If you, or a member of your family has a life-limiting illness and would like to discuss whether St Helena care services can help, you can contact the SinglePoint telephone service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 01206 890 360

Bereavement Support

To contact the St Helena Bereavement Support team please telephone the bereavement helpline: 01206 984 274, Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm

Learning and Development Centre

The Learning and Development Centre is open Monday to Friday between 9.00am and 5.00pm and can be contacted on 01206 851 560

Service User Group

For more information on the St Helena Service User Group please contact Chair, Ken Aldred on 01206 751 397

Facilities Hire Enquiries

01206 851560


To contact the Lottery team please call 0800 285 1390 or visit the website here, Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm.

If you would like to write to or visit the Lottery team, the address is: Your Hospice Lottery Office Unit 6 The Atrium, Phoenix Square, Wyncolls Road, Colchester CO4 9AS.

Comment, compliment or complaint

Feedback, comments and complaints about St Helena care and support services may be made verbally or in writing to: Director of Care, St Helena, Myland Hall, Barncroft Close, Highwoods, Colchester, CO4 9JU. To speak to a member of our team, call 01206 845 566