A LASTING legacy has been born at a state-of-the-art maternity unit soon to open its doors in Furness, according to staff.

Costing £12m to build, the South Lakes Birthing Centre sits on the site of Furness General Hospital and serves as the "last piece of the jigsaw puzzle," for the South Cumbria NHS trust, which has worked alongside bereaved families and members of the public to create the personalised unit.

This weekend the centre is hosting a number of packed-out tours which will show more than 250 expectant mums and members of the public around the 2,553 sq m unit.

The Mail was given access to the unit on January 12 and met with several key members of staff who have been instrumental in securing the world-class facility.

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Sascha Wells, director of midwifery, gynaecology and obstetrics at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) was overcome with emotion as she spoke about what the new centre means to her.

She said: "It's a stark contrast to what we used to have and we are hoping to set the standard across the UK.

"It's all been about listening to women and meeting their needs - I don't know how to put it in to words without crying.

"The opening of this unit is the beginning of the future for us.

"It shows a commitment to the community and it belongs to them, they now have a fit for purpose unit that will serve future generations."

Mrs Wells, who qualified as a midwife in 1995, praised the help and support from the local community and said she was "immeasurably excited" for the opening.

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"We have around 80 births a month and the rates have gone down recently so we are hoping for a surge.

"I anticipate our birth rates will increase now and we will welcome every mother with open arms."

While Mrs Wells and her team cannot predict how many women will troop through their doors after the official opening, they have pledged special baby grows for the first 50 babies born.

David Walker, UHMBT medical director praised the members of the public who had such a large say in the development process and reflected on the trust's past.

He said: "For me this is the end of a long road- we had the Kirkup report which identified problems and this is the last piece in the jigsaw.

"We are so proud of this and it's the start of a new era.

"All the components are in place and now our staff really have the chance to fly in this environment."

He praised parents, bereaved parents Lesley Bennett and James Titcombe, who he says were heavily involved in the creation of the birthing centre and scrutinised the entire process.

"They have been sitting alongside us, holding us to account, and that's pretty powerful.

"Them sitting and judging us- and that's how it should be."

Meet south Cumbria's Christmas newborn at Furness General Hospital

The centre

Made up of 14 ensuite birthing rooms with facilities for partners to stay over, two dedicated operating theatres, a special care baby unit, a maternity assessment area, a transitional care facility, a skills lab for staff training, and a bereavement suite.

Building started on the unit in September 2016 and has taken just under 15 months to complete.

Throughout December, a period of commissioning took place to ensure all the equipment was installed, tested and the unit was cleaned.

January 13 - members of the public were invited in for two special tours ahead of the grand opening on Valentines Day.