Our history

Our visitors are always fascinated to know about the history of our hospice. How long have we been here? Why do we still have two donkeys? Here, you can see a timeline of the key events in our development.

1951 - Donkey sanctuary

Our hospice donkeys, Dudley and Dylan, are a celebration of our heritage. Believe it or not, the development of our St Peter & St James Hospice began when a man met a donkey!

Jim Dinnage, a farmer in Wivelsfied, spotted a very sorry looking donkey on Wivelsfield Green in the pouring rain one day and the sight touched his heart. That evening, after six pints in The Cock Inn, Jim surprised his wife, Susan, and their two children, Peter and Jacky, by coming home with the donkey and a trap, bought for £5. Jim named the donkey Billy and soon decided to buy him a friend. That decision was a huge stroke of luck for 13 donkeys destined for the slaughterhouse. Instead of just one, Jim and his friends bought them all and saved their lives.

In October 1951, the first ever ‘Donkey Club’ meeting was hosted for Peter and Susan’s family, friends and neighbours, to help raise money for the purchase of Wivelsfield’s playing field, swings and slide. Towards the end of that year, Peter offered shelter to a further 199 rescued donkeys, which generated so much publicity, including TV and national newspapers, that requests to join The Donkey Club, as well as donations to see the animals through the winter, started to flood in. At this point, The Donkey Club was registered with charitable status. Previously, this name had only been used as a fun, collective name amongst those who had been involved in the purchase of the first donkeys.

1956 - Family care

The success of the donkey sanctuary grew, with over 20,000 people descending on the farm for the races on a 1952 bank holiday! This popularity was the start of thousands of pounds being raised to help various charities in years to come. Famous TV & theatre celebrities joined The Donkey Club and even came to the races to help raise money and publicise the plight of the humble donkey, an animal that was – at the time – often trafficked for meat in appalling conditions.

Unfortunately, during this same period, Jim and Susan were dealing with their own personal struggle. In 1953, they received the devastating news that their son, Peter, had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which was a fatal disease at the time. Susan, a registered nurse, personally cared for Peter throughout his illness. Sadly, he died at Chailey Heritage – our neighbouring charity – in 1956, after being briefly admitted to give Susan some respite. Susan’s experience of Chailey stayed with her, and proved influential in the path she’d take over the coming years.

1957 - St Peter's Holiday Home

After Peter died, Jim and Susan wished to help other families going through what they had been through. With the blessing of The Donkey Club’s committee, they decided to channel all proceeds from future donkey races into the purchase and running into a seaside holiday home – which they named St Peter’s – for disabled children and adults. This was set up in 1957, and the idea was to give family carers respite from their daily nursing, much like Chailey Heritage had been able to do for them. This kind of support was not widely available at the time. The home was a huge success and helped over 800 families. It was entirely administered by Susan throughout this period.

Sadly, in 1963, Jim Dinnage died suddenly, and with little choice, Susan was faced with selling the farm used for donkey races to settle death duties. This would mean a loss of a home for the much-loved animals, as well as the loss of the income they generated, which meant financial disaster for St Peter’s.

Susan was heartbroken, however it had always been her dream to have a holiday home, purpose built, on the farm at Wivelsfield, with the donkeys, where it had all begun. Her grit and dogged determination eventually paid off when The Donkey Club agreed to buy the family farm from Peter’s estate. The proceeds from the sale of St Peters in Lancing – a valuable seafront site – was used to build the St Peter & St James Hospice we have today.

1977 - St Peter & St James Holiday Home for the Disabled

Over the following years, Susan’s work returned to the original Wivelsfield site, where our current hospice now stands. The St Peter & St James Holiday Home for the Disabled, was built and opened in 1975. It cost £180,000 and much of this was generously donated by the public. It was always intended for the new home to have a number of charitable hospice beds, subsidised by the short holiday stays and revenue generated from the  donkeys.

The home grew and evolved and it was registered as a nursing home in 1977. In 1980, the first ever hospice patients were admitted and in the years to follow, hospice care became its sole purpose.

2007 - Upgrading hospice facilities

In 2007, the hospice’s facilities were upgraded so that better care could be provided to hospice patients and their families. Ward bedrooms were made bigger and fitted with specialist equipment, the family rooms and lounges were introduced, and the layout of the hospice was changed to ensure that doctors and nurses could respond quickly to anyone in need.

2020 - Where we are now and our future

Over the past decade, we’ve made constant improvements to our hospice environment and the services we offer. In 2014, our Beacon View Wellbeing Centre opened, providing a safe, welcoming setting for a range of new services including courses and classes, complementary therapies, counselling, spiritual support and welfare advice.

Looking to the future, we’re actively developing plans to increase both our retail and fundraising income, whilst reviewing other commercial income streams to sustain and grow the services that we provide. We’re incredibly passionate about what we do and strive to continually improve our care standards and ensure local families receive the best possible care. We want to expand our services within the local community, help to inspire more conversation around death and dying, and introduce more innovative technology to support our ways of working.

As our hospice grows and develops, the reminder of how it all begun stays the same. If you head out to the paddock opposite our hospice reception, you’ll find Dudley and Dylan, our lovely hospice donkeys. The boys are a great source of comfort (and entertainment!) to our patients and their families. We also often think fondly of the incredible kindness and generosity of Jim and Susan, and the sacrifices they made throughout their lives. We owe them so much.