THE Countess of Chester Hospital’s fundraising team have spoken of their delight as plans for a new neonatal unit are lodged with the council.

Lesley Woodhead, Head of Fundraising, said she felt enormous pride after almost five years of hard work by her team and the people of Chester.

Backed by its media partner The Standard, The Babygrow Appeal raised a whopping £2.4 million from its launch in 2013.

The money will pay for a new extended unit that, once complete, will be more than twice the size of the current one.

Subject to approval by Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee, it is hoped that work will begin on the facility in October with a grand opening pencilled in for September next year.

“I feel immensely proud,” said Lesley. “It makes all that standing in the cold with buckets worthwhile!”

She added: “We have had so much support from individuals, businesses and the community across Chester we are really grateful and could not have done it without you.

“Special thanks go to The Standard for all your coverage and help. This has had a major impact on the appeal.”

Chester and District Standard:

Lesley Woodhead, head of fundraising at The Countess, talks the Standard through the plans at the newspaper's city centre office.

Major events in the city that have helped raise cash for the appeal include the Santa Dash, Duck Race, and MBNA Chester Marathon.

The existing neonatal unit was built in 1974 and its design has become out-dated.

The new building will not only be packed with state-of-the-art, life-saving technology, it will also focus on providing space, privacy and as much comfort as possible for the tots and their families.

Lesley talked our reporter through the plans with a virtual tour.

Chester and District Standard:

The floor plan for the new baby unit at The Countess of Chester Hospital.

The unit will be built on wasteland behind the existing building, which will remain open and fully-functioning while construction work is carried out.

Parents and relatives will access the unit via a new entrance which leads into a secure foyer with handwashing facilities.

Next to this, at the top of the plan, is the secure intensive care unit (ICU) where newborn babies with the most serious needs will be taken.

Next door to this is the high dependency unit (HDU) which is a step down from ICU but still for tots who require a high level of care.

Adjacent to this is a shower room.

“This is for example when mum or dad finishes work and comes straight over to the unit,” said Lesley. “Now there will be space for them to have a shower and freshen up without having to go home.”

Moving around the facility anti-clockwise are six nurseries, four with two cots and two with one cot. Some even have pull-down beds for adults to sleep on.

“The main thing is that there is much more room for each baby,” said Lesley. “We think this is the first unit that has been designed for integrated family care.

“Back in the Eighties parents would have been looking through the window and watching, but now they will be right next to their baby, involved in the care as a team with the staff.

“The single rooms are great for any baby that has an infection or needs to be in isolation.”

Chester and District Standard:

A 3D impression of the new unit, showing the outside space next to the 'parent and siblings room'.

Further round the plan is the dedicated counselling room, which will be used when staff need to relay particularly sensitive news.

Next door is the ‘retreat’, which will act as a quiet space for family members. Further around the corridor is the ‘parent and siblings room’, linked to an outdoor space, where families can chat and catch up.

“This is an area where there can be noise,” said Lesley. “People will be able to watch TV and catch up with Coronation Street! It’s a space where normal life can carry on.”

As part of the existing unit there will also be two bedrooms where families can stay before they take their baby home for the first time.

“Parents can understandably be nervous so this allows them to build confidence by spending a few nights with their baby knowing expert help is right next door,” Lesley said.

She added: “Overall this has been a long time coming and is the product of a lot of research and visits of other units across the country.

“We can’t wait to see it open!”

Chester and District Standard:

A 3D image of the front of the planned new neonatal unit.