A HOSPICE which has helped thousands of children has been forced to cut jobs and close charity shops to secure its survival.

Dwindling donations have forced Oxford's Helen & Douglas House to 'grasp the nettle' by making at least 12 employees redundant and closing three retail branches, including its only city centre store.

The charity, which paved the way for children's palliative care, is set to close its shop in the Covered Market as it streamlines expenditure.

Its chief executive officer Clare Periton said she hoped the 'tough' decisions would help to boost sustainability of the hospice, which was the world's first for children and young people.

She confirmed a dozen employees from a 280-strong workforce were made redundant, in the retail, finance, therapy and support service sectors.

Ms Periton also revealed that the charity's shop in the Covered Market, Chipping Norton High Street and Caversham, in Berkshire, will close; with up to six staff members also potentially facing redundancy.

Speaking exclusively to the Oxford Mail, she said: "We are future-proofing the charity. We are not in crisis: we still have at least £5m in reserves. But if we don't look at this now, we will hit the buffers. We had to grasp the nettle.

"When I became CEO [in 2015] I inherited a plush pot of reserves, a grant from the Department of Health to expand services and several large legacies (donations left in wills). It was a gift.

"Now, the money isn't coming in like it used to and we need to cut our cloth: if we carry on spending like this, we are going to run out of money."

According to Helen & Douglas House's most recent accounts, it made a loss of £1.65m in the financial year 2015-16.

Previous accounts show the charity - like many others - fluctuates between profit and loss, but this drop of £2.8m largest dip in the past five years.

These accounts were the first since Sister Frances Dominica, who founded the hospice, spoke about being forced to resign from the charity following unproven allegations of sexual abuse.

The most recent accounts also show the charity received £1.7m less in donations and legacies in 2015-16, compared to the average sum received in the previous five years and £3m on 2014-15 when there was a high number of legacy cash - that left in wills.

Ms Periton suggested the decline was a combination of tighter purse strings, supporters 'assuming the charity is rich' because it is well-known, and competition from other charities.

She added: "We were the first [children's hospice] and used to have a fundraising footprint of the whole UK. Now there are 45 children's hospices in the UK."

She said many charities face those same struggle, and largely rely on legacies.

But Ms Periton: "We cannot rely on those. We need sustainable income.

"The most important thing is the children's care. In order to do that with excellence, we have to make sure money comes in.

"I'm absolutely aware that [job loss] is life-changing, but we did it as best as we possibly could."

She said she was grateful to the 1,000-strong team of 'integral' volunteers, and appealed to Oxfordshire residents to help ensure the hospice still exists to support poorly children in the future.

The Chipping Norton and Caversham closures have been chalked up to practicalities over leases, but the Oxford closure has been blamed on a spike in rent implemented by Covered Market landlord Oxford City Council.

Ms Periton said: "Charities can no longer be fluffy. They have to be a business, looking at how you get your income.

"It doesn't matter how attractive the offer is in the Covered Market, at least for the first 18 months [of it opening], everybody will be going to the Westgate Centre.

"Charity retail is getting more challenging and we need to be really careful."

The shop - one of 40 Helen & Douglas branches - will close at the end of August, with the other two following at the end of September.

City council spokesman Chofamba Sithole said the council is 'confident' it will find a replacement tenant for the Covered Market unit.

He added: "The council is also currently negotiating with traders over the rents associated with the new leases, and has already significantly discounted and capped proposed new rent levels, which are considerably less than new tenants are prepared to pay."

To ensure a long-term funding stream, the charity would welcome regular donations from those who can afford it, such as a small weekly sum, as well as volunteers, donations to charity shops and participation in fundraisers such as its Riverside Stomp and Santas on the Run.

Healthcare regulator the Care Quality Commission praised the hospice in a post-inspection report released at the end of July, for making 'significant improvements' since safety concerns were raised earlier this year.

To donate to the hospice, visit helenanddouglas.org.uk or call 01865 794749.