STEPPING into a hospice for the first time can be a scary prospect - but anyone expecting to find silence and stern faces might be surprised.

As specialists in palliative and end-of-life care, few people unfamiliar with hospices imagine them as uplifting places.

Today national charity Hospice UK is dispelling that myth and many others, by launching this year's Hospice Care Week.

The campaign is being backed by Sobell House Hospice in Oxford, which is embracing the 'heart my hospice' theme by inviting its community to share why the cause is close to them.

Diane Gardner, chief executive of Sobell House Hospice Charity, said: "We are asking supporters and people who have been touched by Sobell to share why it has a special place in their heart.

"One of the things people find most surprising about hospice care is that there is a lot of laughter."

Hospice Care Week takes place annually to raise the profile of hospice services, and challenge common misconceptions.

Ray Farmer volunteers at Sobell House in Headington twice a week, having made a connection with the hospice when it cared for his late wife Sheila.

Mr Farmer, from Abingdon, said: “Sobell is a big warm hug.

“All of the staff make sure you have your home comforts.

"Sheila loved cats and the housekeeper, Mandy, brought in her new-born kittens for Sheila to see.

“Another time, the whole family had fish and chips from the local chippy in the family room - the nurse set it up for us just so.”

Mr Farmer has volunteered on the hospice’s reception since 2012 and said it helped to give structure to his week.

He added: “I feel as though I get more out of the role than I give, thanks to the people I’ve met along the way.”

Mrs Gardner said people valued the personal touch at Sobell.

She added: “It’s important to look after patients and their families not just medically, but holistically. With our team and charity fundraising we are able to provide an all-encompassing set of skills.

“Everybody who works here puts an awful lot of personal energy into making sure they do a good job, and it’s very encouraging to have the feedback we get.”

Staff receptionist Shireen Hussain is often the first face people see when entering the hospice, which is located on the Churchill Hospital site.

She said: “Sobell House is a proper community where we look out for each other and laugh together.

“I’m always having tea and a chat with visitors, patients and staff and I find that to be a really wonderful aspect of my role.

“I think Sobell House offers people a unique experience and I love to be able to give back to my local community.”

Hospice Care Week runs from today until Sunday.

Anyone who wants to share why they 'heart' Sobell, or find out more about donating or volunteering at the hospice, can visit