LYNDA Hill wraps her arms protectively around her son and, immediately, smiles blossom across both their faces.

For Joshua, now seven, it's a look of love for the mum who has cuddled and supported him through leukaemia.

For her, it is one of relief that her precious boy is beating his illness, and of pride that his courage has inspired her to help others like him.

Together with family and friends, Northwich mum Lynda and husband David have set up The Joshua Tree to build a holiday house and support centre where children with a life-threatening illness can go with their families for a free short break.

'When Joshua was diagnosed with leukaemia in September 2004 at Alder Hey Hospital, David and I were bombarded with a barrage of information explaining his condition and what this meant, not just for Josh but for us as a family,' said Lynda, 39, a former research psychologist of Redgate, Winnington.

'We have vivid memories of a whole list of 'you will not be able to...' and we were left wondering whether a return to relative normality would ever be an option.'

Because of Josh's greatly reduced level of immunity due to his leukaemia (particularly in the first year of chemotherapy) he is very limited as to where he is able to go.

'All families are advised not to go on holiday during the first year of treatment and this was why our initial ideas about The Joshua Tree were born,' said Lynda. 'So much of a family's initial time after diagnosis revolves around the hospital and siblings have to spend time with others while mum and dad adjust to life at a child's bedside.

'We have two other children, Beth, nine, and Adam, 11, and when your whole world is caving in around you, you want to keep normality for them. We felt very strongly that we wanted to create a haven for families to be able to spend quality time together in a safe environment.'

Just over two years later, Lynda and her family have a five-year business plan, several possible sites around Northwich and within an hour's drive of Alder Hey and £30,000 in the bank - a huge step towards the £600,000 they need to build this specialist centre.

Moreover, they have hope, unlike when Josh's condition was discovered.

'Josh had complained of a tummy ache all weekend but went to Winnington Park Primary School on the Monday,' recalled Lynda. 'When he came home still complaining I made an appointment at the doctor's for the next day.'

Hours later, she was told the devastating news: 'Josh's glands were up and I could tell the doctor was concerned, especially when we discovered a huge bruise on his knee even though he hadn't bumped it - a clear sign of leukaemia.'

Immediately, scientist husband David took Josh for a blood test. 'The bombshell came at midnight,' said Lynda. 'I think I was physically sick for a few hours afterwards and I didn't sleep at all that night. You are thrown into a situation you have no alternative but to get through.'

Josh was admitted to Alder Hey Hospital the next day where tests confirmed he had Acute Lymph-oblastic Leukaemia.

'They say it's about 80-90% chance that the prognosis will be good,' said Lynda, 'which seems good odds, unless it's your child.'

Joshua had a year of intensive chemotherapy during which he lost his red hair: 'He continues to have chemotherapy now although in year two and three it is with lower doses of chemotherapy and is maintenance treatment, he has it intravenously once a month and, medicinally, every night.

'I think you have to take each day as it comes. I have to be prepared to go into hospital at any time, but the school has been really good.

'Joshua has coped remarkably well. To be honest, he keeps us going. If he's unwell he doesn't complain and, if he's well, we get an 'I'm okay today mum'. He just gets on with life.

'And he has inspired us to do what we are doing.'

The centre will be a self-catering holiday location not far from the family's Northwich home, with links with community nursing staff and a support centre, and a place for families to play and spend that vital time to gether.

'Alder Hey has been brilliant,' said Lynda, 'but there are times when you want to get away from the hospital and, even home, where you are constantly reminded of the illness.

'We know that our centre won't take away the pain, but we hope it will ease it.'

* Contact point To help or find out more about The Joshua Tree call 01606 781777 or log on to