ST DAVID'S started with a very modest six patients in 1979, but not even founder Heulwen Egerton could have imagined it would take off in the manner it has.

The charity has gone from strength to strength over the past 30 years and now cares for more than 2,600 people and their families every year at a cost of £4.6 million.

From its humble beginnings, the hospice now employs 130 people, has 600 volunteers and has helped more than 50,000 people over the past three decades.

The hospice looks after around 1,000 people across Newport, Monmouthshire, Torfaen and Caerphilly borough at any one time, dealing with 2,869 patients between April 2008 and March this year.

Jason Oliver, 32, from Sedbury near Chepstow lost his wife Jemma to cervical cancer in February.

Before she died, she had hospice at home care from St David's in her final days.

She was given the option of being moved into a hospice, but wanted to spend time with her husband and two children, Keaton, four, and Codi, two.

Mr Oliver said without St David's Hospice, he wouldn't have been able to cope, as they helped him with everything from looking after his children so he could spend time with his wife, to helping fill in paperwork.

He described the people who helped his family through its toughest time as "angels."

"They were absolutely brilliant, I couldn't fault anything. Jemma wanted to come home for her last week, from that moment, they were brilliant, helping with the kids so I could spend more time with Jemma," he said.

As in Mrs Oliver's case, a lot of the work done by the hospice involves taking care of patients in their own home, as this is where many want to spend the last part of their lives.

The charity's hospice at home service is staffed by 85 nurses who provide support 24 hours a day across the region.

Although the hospice is well known, and prides itself on, its hospice at home service, another key aspect of St David's are the hospices in Panteg and Ystrad Mynach which allow patients to meet up.

The Ystrad Mynach hospice sits in the grounds of the hospital and runs two days a week, with people brought on a free bus service, driven by a man affectionately known as Clive 'The Drive' Morgan.

At the hospice, there are reflexology and aromatherapy rooms, as well as a range of arts and crafts.

But, as I found out on a recent visit, the people there see it as a place to socialise, catch up with friends and generally have a chat.

One man, Colin Brazier, has been coming to Ystrad Mynach for six months after he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis three years ago.

Mr Brazier, 72, said he "didn't have a clue" about what St David's did until his specialist mentioned it to him and admits his initial thoughts of a hospice would be full of people on zimmer frames.

He was pleasantly surprised when he arrived and discovered his initial reaction couldn't have been further from the truth: "I come in and look forward to it because it's the only social thing I have, we've all got so much in common and we can exchange stories."

Mr Brazier, from Ynysddu, now admits that his Friday visit can't come soon enough and said it's not only the people who they have a good relationship with, but employees as well: "The nurses and staff are all fabulous."

Rita Blake, 74, from Blackwood is another who uses the hospice in Ystrad Mynach.

She's been coming for 18 months after being diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.

She said: "It's great being able to come here, the people are so nice, we have chats and have a laugh it's great. Some people are shy when they start, but now they join in."

When people hear the words St David's foundation, their minds may jump to cancer sufferers, and although they do account for a lot of the people they treat, that is not exclusively what they do.

People suffering from Parkinson's and Huntington's disease to multiple sclerosis and dementia can all benefit from the work done by St David's.

Chief executive Emma Saysell said this is one aspect they are keen to develop in the future: "Their needs at the end of their lives is as important. If they are facing the end of their life and need support and care, I want St David's to be there for them."