Work on the new £13m Northern Ireland Hospice has officially begun – with the building expected to revolutionise care when it opens its doors within 18 months.
Thousands of people and their families have been cared for by the charity over 30 years, but Somerton House in north Belfast had to close its doors in 2012 as it no longer met clinical standards.
Since then the adult hospice has been operating out of accommodation at Whiteabbey Hospital in Newtownabbey and Jennymount Business Park in Belfast.
Construction work started this week to transform Somerton House into a purpose-built hospice.
The full cost of the redevelopment will be £13m.
The hospice provided £2.7m, which left a fundraising goal of £10.3m.
Of this, £7.7m was raised through public, Government and philanthropic donations.
But a further £2.6m must be raised to complete the rebuild.
It will be first 'dementia-friendly' hospice in the British Isles and is designed to care for people with complex care needs and the growing numbers of people in need of end of life care.
Among the new facilities will be 18 specialist palliative care beds, and a physiotherapy and occupational therapy facility.
The site will also include gardens, a children and relatives area, a sanctuary and chaplain's room, and space where patients and families can relax together.
Dame Judith Hill, Northern Ireland Hospice chief executive, said: "We mark an important milestone in the journey to revolutionise hospice care in Northern Ireland as we take our first steps towards realising the dream of a purpose-built adult hospice at Somerton Road. This is so much more than a building; the new Northern Ireland Hospice will provide the foundations from which we will build a legacy of hospice care."
Nurse Cindy Anderson, manager of the unit who helped to launch the new-build, said it was a "great moment".
"This work is really vital and it is great that we have finally reached this point," she said.
Professor Hill added that the hospice was grateful to the many supporters who backed the rebuild campaign.
It is expected that the new adult hospice will be open and operational in late 2015. In the interim, the adult hospice is operating from temporary accommodation in Whiteabbey Hospital with 17 beds. Plans for a new hospice at Somerton Road will include improved patient rooms, better facilities for families and a new research and education wing.