In 1987 Rev. Geoff Hobden (Vicar of Christchurch in Weston-super-Mare) and local lady Pam Pembro had a vision for palliative care in Weston-super-Mare and the neighbouring villages. They wanted to have nurses and trained volunteers visiting patients’ homes, offering support for all those living with life-limiting illnesses. Little did they know that their vision would become the Hospice that we know today, helping over 1300 local people and their families each year.
Mary Armstrong joined the founding team early on: her humour, abilities, dedication and experience greatly benefitted this new venture and here she tells us her story.
“In the early days there was a lot of planning and before we could really do much we decided that we had to raise £50,000. We were very lucky and early on we were offered our first shop on Baker Street which was going to be instrumental in helping us reach these targets. The committee all agreed that when we had £70,000 we would advertise for a nurse.
“We were rather surprised at the number of people who came to us offering their help: we want to be a volunteer, we have been praying for you, we have money that we want to donate, I wish you had been there when my wife was ill, I want you here If I become ill… The response was overwhelming.
Our first Day Care Centre
“In September 1989 we had a ‘Launch Week’ with a series of events, and the town offered us the use of the Italian Gardens for a musical afternoon.
“The ‘Friends of Weston Hospicecare’ were formed and they became a major source of income. We reached our fundraising target and appointed two nurses who were able to train a group of patient volunteers to provide extra care. Then just as we had finished the training, Leo Alp, who was one of the volunteers, offered us a room in Milton Methodist Church for a Day Care Centre. It was just brilliant and what perfect timing!
Pastry Forks – Ohhhh how Posh!
“The nurses started taking more and more referrals and the Day Hospice grew. The patients absolutely loved coming. One of the office volunteers was talking one day to a patient who attended and she said “It’s lovely there, they have lovely table cloths, beautiful china, superb cakes and… pastry forks!” – And that is what made it, to her, so special, the pastry forks! You can still see this in the Hospice now; we always try to make things as special as we possibly can. Each tiny detail really does matter to us – we want everything to be just perfect for the patients.”
To our residence in Montpellier
“The next event was buying our first Hospice in Montpelier, and this story is just extraordinary. Dr Peter Smith (a GP in Milton) told us that there was a house in Montpelier that would be perfect for the Hospice and it had just dropped in price. I looked at our reserves and we had just got that much money – if it had been just one month earlier we couldn’t have considered it. The extraordinary thing is that it had once been the ChristChurch vicarage. This still amazes me today, it’s as though it was meant to be.
“The house was transformed; it was cosy and so unclinical, the decor and furnishings were beautiful. It was amazing how everything just came together. Barbara Bradshaw, our housekeeper, was meticulous right down to the tiniest details; if the cutlery wasn’t shiny it went back to the kitchen – that’s the kind of service that we wanted to offer.”
“One by one we got more nurses; John Bailey and Bev Cruse are still with us. The National Lottery Fund gave us money to open an In-patient Unit. It was beyond our wildest dreams to have Community Nurses, Day Hospice and now an In-patient Unit on the horizon.
Jill Dando became our patron – she was just the most extraordinary lady. She was so wonderful and, of course, the patients loved her. We were so blessed to have her support before her untimely death.
“Amongst all the sadness that a life-limiting illness brings to patients and their families, there was a lot of good humour, most noticeably in our Day Hospice. We had this beautiful house and the most wonderful volunteers who had a way of just making people feel at ease.
“One 93 year old lady said to me: “My dear, I have had the best bath that I have had for 10 years, my first ever manicure and the best salmon sandwiches that I have tasted, I am in heaven already!” Now that’s extraordinary isn’t it?
“The In-patient-Unit proved to be a great blessing. Some patients came for symptom control, others came for respite care – and others chose to die there. The team spirit and the loving care offered was inspirational.”
On to and beyond
“We were just beginning to outgrow the house in Montpellier when another miracle happened. The council put a redundant care home on the market in Uphill and, at the same time, the last of the Jackson-Barstow sisters passed away; she was an ex-ChristChurch member and she and her sister had left us £3million in their will. That money bought us the Hospice that we have now; a building that welcomes 1 in 100 local people through its doors each year.
“Why has Weston Hospicecare been such a success? An extraordinary set of things happening at the right time! I’m incredibly proud of everything Weston Hospicecare has achieved, and I’m still a great supporter of the Hospice today. Ivan keeps me in the loop with the day-to-day goings on there – he now volunteers in the In-patient Unit on reception. We both turned 80 last year and have been married for 57 years. Through this time, the Hospice has been a big part of our lives and we are just so privileged to be involved in such a wonderful organisation.”