1902 – 1940
The 22 acre estate we now know as Rowcroft was initially called Pilmuir. It was owned by the Wills family from Bristol, who were manufacturers of a well-known brand of cigarettes. The main house was built in 1902, and one of the daughters, Ella Rowcroft, came to live here soon after the First World War.
The Great Depression affected people across the UK. Ella Rowcroft wanted to play her part in helping the people of Torquay, so decided to create jobs by having another house built on the estate. Work started on the building we now call Rainbow House in 1935. Ella moved into it in 1937, so that the main house could be used as a convalescent home for women and children suffering from tuberculosis, or recovering from surgery. During the Second World War, the main house was used to treat injured soldiers and, in later years, it served as a maternity unit.
1941 - 1980
Ella Rowcroft died in January 1941, but not before creating an endowment fund to support the Rowcroft Convalescent Home. The endowment fund later became a registered charity, called the Rowcroft Convalescent Home, which is still managed by appointed trustees.
In 1972, the Pilmuir Estate was divided from Rainbow House, and some of the grounds were sold off. Around four acres were left, along with the main house, which the Trustees ran for some years as a nursing home. This was not entirely successful, however, so when The Torquay Lions Club approached the Trustees about setting-up a hospice, their suggestion was well received.
Lions Clubs support good causes and projects in their area, and when Richard Brinsley became the President of The Torquay Lions Club, he decided to focus on setting up the hospice during his year in office.
1981 - 2015
In 1981 the Trustees of the Rowcroft Convalescent Home offered the property to be used as a hospice. It was decided that the home should be re-named Rowcroft, in memory of the woman whose kindness made the hospice possible. Rowcroft House Foundation Ltd was set up – a company limited by guarantee and registered as a charity.
The first patients were admitted to Rowcroft Hospice in May 1982. A new seven-bed ward was created the following year, with another ward and single room following in 1990. We knew that we could only ever help a small number of people as inpatients, however, so we started to offer care and support in the community from the mid-1990s. We expanded our services again in 2000, with the launch of the Hospice at Home team, to bring specialist care to people at home in their final days. To begin with, care was limited to daytime hours, but in 2011 the service was enhanced to offer up to 24/7 care, across 300 square miles of South Devon.
The Inpatient Unit was refurbished in 2009. Extra rooms and specialist bathrooms were added, along with improved facilities for families and patients. The Outpatient Centre was also re-launched the following year. Named after Richard Brinsley, this purpose-designed centre now had additional facilities, such as a physiotherapy gym and complementary therapy room.
2016 – 2017
In 2016, we faced a drastic funding crisis. There was a risk we would have to severely limit our services, or even close the hospice completely. Thankfully, the people of South Devon responded to our appeal. Their generosity saved the hospice. While we had to reduce the number of beds in our Inpatient Unit, most of our services were able to carry on with minimal disruption.
We created a new five year organisational strategy in 2017. This sets out our vision for the future, and addresses how we are going to achieve it. We now have a financial surplus, costs are being tightly managed, and our retail and fundraising teams are performing better than ever.
Ella Rowcroft’s generosity may have started Rowcroft, but it’s the generosity of local people that keeps us going. Without you, we couldn’t do what we do. So, if you’ve made a donation, left us a gift in your will, or volunteered your time, thank you. You’re making a real difference to people’s lives.
Can you help Rowcroft to support people through the most difficult time of their life? Please get involved today.