He’s a Knockout! Spotlight on Mark James, a hospice hero, who often leaps over foam-sprayed inflatable obstacles to raise funds for Wirral Hospice St John’s #hospicehero #supporters #itsaknockout #patientcare #support #fun #fundraising

Get ready for Sunday 21st July at New Brighton Dips where Wirral Hospice St John’s will be holding our 4th Annual ‘It’s a Knockout’ extravaganza.

Mark James 5Teams of 6-10 people will compete with each other over a range of inflatable obstacles, sometimes dry but more often sprayed with foamy bubbles, which sees the participants slip-sliding all over the place as they try to win points for their team. (On the left of this picture is Mark James, in action at last year’s event. More about him to follow).

It’s a fantastic, fun filled, frenzy of foam-filled fabulousness, in the image of the famous TV show, It’s a Knockout, which ran from the 1960’s through to the ‘80’s. It’s massive fun for everyone involved and, for all those watching too.

Fun is exactly the right word, because the competitors and their supporting friends, family and, in fact, hundreds of people from the whole Wirral come back year after year to join in, and roll around with laughter from the sidelines at, all the pandemonium. This mayhem is complemented by pulsating upbeat music which is enough to get everyone moving as the chaos unfolds.

The competition is the central attraction of the day, but everyone can take part in the fun day which surrounds the event. There’s loads for the family to do, fairground rides, food stalls, ice-cream, face painting and the kids’ favourite, an inflatable assault course.

So, it’s a brilliant day for everyone and a really important fundraising event for Wirral Hospice St John’s. Many people recognise this and are delighted to sponsor their friends and family to take part. Many of the participants inspire others to get involved because it is their way of making their contribution and saying a personal ‘thank you’ to the hospice.

Mark James & coOne such person is Mark James (the furthest man on the left, in blue trainers, as you look at this picture). His Mum, Maureen (known fondly as ‘Mo’), was receiving our specialist care and support when she passed away at the hospice in 2010 and he’s been raising funds for us every year since.

Mark recalls the hospice team caring so attentively for his Mum, taking away any stress and pain that her illness had brought on. He heaps praise on the doctors and nurses whom he describes as, “simply brilliant. Wirral Hospice St John’s made that time in our families lives as nice as it possibly could be. We’ll be eternally grateful.”

Mark is a marketing manager for a software company in his day job. He’s also, it’s fair to say, driven by keeping himself fit and encouraging others, through his fitness business, Better Body Fitness (BBF), to also look after themselves. He’s also encouraged 3 teams, of 10 people each, to contend in the 2019, It’s a Knockout. One of which he’ll lead himself!

BBF brings together people of all shapes, sizes, ages and ability on three evenings a week to take part in fun exercises and circuit training, to get their hearts pumping. I joined him on one such evening at The Grosvenor Assembly Rooms in Wallasey,  to get a flavour of their challenges and, importantly to say Thank You to the groups for their support for the hospice (extended also to others who would have been around on different evenings).

It really is a mix of people ranging from people who are fitness fanatics to people who just want to be active, enjoy themselves and lose a few pounds. Everybody does the same exercises together, but at a pace, repetition and level which suits their current capabilities. They have a gentle motivator in Mark, although he can transmit a ‘bootcamp’ vibe for those who need a stronger challenge! 

Mark James 2

They’re a happy group. Lots of laughs are had during the 45 minute session. First, there’s a nice, easy, warm-up of stretches and light walking or jogging to get the circulation going and then the volume on the background music is turned up. It’s Pump up the Jam, and OFF WE GO.

Squat thrusts, star jumps, sit ups, press ups, running, jogging and walking, I can see that the gents and ladies from this group are going to be able to strive for a win in It’s a Knockout. (But there’s no foam or obstacles in the Gym so that might well level the playing field on the day!)

At the end of the session there’s a nice warm-down and the members are all aglow. I can tell they’re already looking forward to their next workout.

After the session I ask Mark about some of his other fundraising for the hospice. I know that through various events since 2010, including It’s a Knockout, he has already raised over £6,000 for the hospice. Various feats of endurance and iron man events have contributed to this, but perhaps the one he considers the toughest is The Rat Race (Mark pictured here at the end of the small matter of a 200 daunting obstacles over a 20 mile course!)

Mark James (2)

I asked Mark one final question, how, with a busy day job, his fitness business and a young family (Dylan, 7, and Mollie, 4), how does he pile it all in?

“I’ve got a very, very patient wife, Gemma, she’s a nurse.” Ha, now it becomes clear!

Gemma actually returned to nursing in 2018 after maternity leave and actually spent time here at Wirral Hospice St John’s in her ‘refresher’ phase. She has seen life as a family member and now, from the inside, as a returning nurse. She was really inspired by the care and support delivered at the hospice which, she told Mark, had added greatly to her all around experience.

Mark’s favourite quote and the maxim by which he lives, and which he also used as the sign-off of a speech he made earlier this year at a 400 person conference called ‘Ignite your Inner Potential’,  is from Will Smith:

“If you’re not making someone else’s life better then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better.”

What more can we say? Just, THANK YOU very, very much to Mark, and Gemma, all their family and friends, and, of course, all the members from BBF. We’re looking forward to you knocking us all out in It’s a Knockout, 2019!

Author: Billy Howard

(It’s a knockout is on Sunday 21st July at New Brighton Dips. If you’d like to enter a team of 6-10 people at £10 per person call Teresa, Jamie-Leigh or Sarah on 0151 343 0778. We also ask individual teams if they can also raise a minimum of £750 between them, through sponsorship, we would be extremely grateful).

Mark James 6

Advertisements

Spotlight On Marianne Sunter, a former chemistry teacher who ‘reacts’ brilliantly when we need her precious time. #wirralhospice #volunteer #wirral #family #hospice #teaching #hospicehero

Marianne 1The phrase, ‘you can take that to the bank’, is confirmation that a valuable item, or a piece of information, is safe and secure. You can rely on it!

Wirral Hospice St John’s has a bank of volunteers who make themselves available, almost at the drop of a hat, to cover holidays and the ill health of other volunteers. They are, by definition, dependable people. Marianne Sunter is one such valiant volunteer.

She gives us her valuable time on main reception when called upon. Her ability to organise and prioritise, not surprising for a former deputy head teacher, is clear. The fact that she’s also very friendly and welcoming brings a mix of skills that are perfect for directing people to our patients and staff at Wirral Hospice St John’s.Marianne 2

Marianne was born and brought up in Wirral. She attended St Laurence’s Primary School in Birkenhead (merged into St Werburgh’s in 2010)  and then attained the qualifications which took her to the Holt Hill Convent school, the sister school of Upton Hall School FCJ (where Marianne actually spent the first five years of her teaching career).

Loving learning and challenging herself at school, she achieved her Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award  and was further inspired to choose a career in teaching after gaining her degree in Chemistry at the University of Liverpool.

In all, she spent 38 years in teaching. Her career flourished at Box Hill School in Surrey where she was for 33 years, rising to become its deputy head teacher for the latter 15 of them. Not surprisingly, “I tend to throw myself into every challenge”, Marianne also ran the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme at Box Hill.

In her role, she’s been in private audience with Prince Philip himself and has also met Princes Andrew and Edward, and also Princess Anne. She is happy to advocate and uphold the values of the school she spent so long at, international understanding, democracy, a care for the world around us, a sense of adventure, and the qualities of leadership and service. 

In 1992 Marianne met the love of her life, and future husband, Jim. Jim had already enjoyed a career working in air freight which had taken him around the world. He was, literally, a ‘high-flying’ executive!

At the time, and still maybe, it was a natural move to retire from a fast moving and successful career in one industry to takeover the management of a country pub and hotel. The Running Horses, on London Road in Surrey, is just such a place! It’s also right over the road from Box Hill School and fate brought Jim and Marianne together.

It’s fair to say that the pub wasn’t all Jim had envisaged and just two years later he was working at Box Hill, initially as a groundsman but, like Marianne, was happy to go above and beyond. (Here they are pictured together). In his 16 years at Box Hill he grew their thousands of bedding plants every year, managed several allotments, looked after all the school buses and coordinated the transport for all outside activities. He also found time to make and paint scenery for school plays and run the bars for parents’ events.Marianne and Jim

Jim developed Kidney problems at around sixty two years of age. From 2011 he was receiving dialysis at home under the care of their local NHS (and his personal ‘nurse’, Marianne). By 2015, Jim’s kidneys were failing and he was finally admitted to the Renal Unit at St Helier Hospital in Carshalton. The decision was taken to stop his dialysis and to live out his days as comfortably and happy as possible.

It was Jim’s palliative care consultant, Dr Swift, “Swift by name, swift by nature” Marianne says, who, at the right time, arranged for the transfer to St Catherine’s Hospice in Sussex.

Marianne remembers, “From the moment he arrived at the hospice he was quickly free from pain and felt very peaceful. I was struck by how attentive the hospice staff and volunteers were. Jim’s full name was William James Sunter and at hospital people would refer to him as William. From the moment we arrived, the staff  at St Catherine’s Hospice knew him, like he was known by everyone, as Jim! Just like at Wirral Hospice St John’s, people were friendly, empathetic, compassionate but, somehow, just ‘normal’, fun even… at the right time! Human, I suppose.”

Marianne and stepdaughter, Joanne, were holding hands with Jim when he died on 15th May, 2015.

Marianne had retired to be with Jim and has now re-settled in Wirral. She is a massive advocate of hospice care and takes a keen interest reading the history of the hospice movement and its ethos. She has great admiration for the work of Dame Cicely Saunders in establishing hospice care and shows me an excerpt from an account of her life (by Jennifer Worth of ‘Call the Midwife’ fame) and matches it to her own experience;

The primary objective of a hospice is to show that death does not need to be a time of suffering but a time to achieve fulfilment. It encompasses the quiet unsung lives of ordinary people. People who have lived simply in a small circle, doing their best and achieving great things, in small ways. My husband (Jim) was such a person. His life was not spectacular but he was a good man and one of the wisest people I have known. He died quietly and peacefully as he had lived with his daughter and I on either side holding his hands. This is life coming full circle.

Both Jim and Marianne were held in such high esteem at Box Hill (see page 08 at this link by clicking here, that there is now an annual award in their name and Jim’s memory, ‘The Sunter Award.’ This goes to the student who has gone above and beyond the normal course of study every year. (Marianne is pictured here presenting the first award to a young man, Josh Barnett, who she says is always a great ambassador for the school).Marianne 3

Nowadays Marianne is in close touch with stepdaughter Joanne, married to Mark, with granddaughters Georgina 21 and Phoebe 16. They experienced their own sadness in losing a little boy Owen after 5 days who is still remembered by all the family. There’s also stepson, Mike, married to Emma with five-year-old, Leo.

Marianne has two brothers. Eldest, Gerry, who lives in Prenton, is married to Barbara. Their son, Matthew has Marianne’s great-niece, Alice and great nephew, Sam. Gerry and Barbara’s daughter, Claire, lives in Wirral with husband Dave and have more great-nephews for Marianne, Adam 10 and Luke 6.

Her other brother Philip, married to Helen, lives in New Zealand and their daughter Alexandra is married and lives in Missouri.

She also has an Aunt, Catherine known as Carrie, who will receive a telegram from The Queen for her 100th birthday in July this year.

As well as making her contribution to the hospice, Marianne adds her considerable experience in education as the chair of governors of St Oswald’s Primary School in Mollington, Chester.

To relax, Marianne is part of a quiz team called The Soapsuds (they’re based at Port Sunlight’s Lever Club). They are in Division One of the Wirral Quiz League and regularly compete in cup matches organised by the larger Merseyside Quiz Leagues.

What I had to find out from somebody else (not mentioning anyone, but Carole Snow is our volunteer services manager!) is that Marianne also took part in the ITV quiz show, The Chase, hosted by Bradley Walsh. For aficionados, she and another lady, Mia, reached the last two to face The Vixen in the final chase. See the action on You Tube by clicking here.

So, with piles of energy, commitment, knowledge and enthusiasm we’re looking forward to seeing Marianne here at the hospice for a lot of years ahead. In fact, I think we can safely say, where Marianne is concerned, you can take that to the bank!

Author: Billy Howard

Tribute to Mr Richard Goss, remembering a thoroughly charming man. #wirralhospice #wellbeing #wirral #hospicehero #family #counselling #physiotherapy #art #gardening #therapy #aromatherapy #musictherapy

Richard Goss (3)Mr Richard Goss had a calm, thoughtful aura about him. When you first met him he’d greet you with a polite, “How do you do”. It’s a great way of opening up a conversation and, let me tell you, Richard was an interesting man to spend time with.

I first met him at Wirral Hospice St John’s Wellbeing Centre where he joined us having undergone successful surgery on a brain tumour in January 2018. The tumour was one of the secondary conditions of Richard’s diagnosed lung cancer.

He was candid about his first reaction to being referred to us – like many patients he was a little anxious and was going to refuse. After a heart-to-heart with his wife, Angela, they decided that there would be no harm in Richard attending an initial session, “let’s see how it goes”.

They were really happy that they did. After attending for one day a week, for 8 weeks, Angela says “Wirral Hospice St John’s gave Richard back his zest for life.”

Patients referred to the Wellbeing Centre, are given information, advice and guidance for living well in their everyday lives. Following an initial chat with our trained staff, and according to their needs, patients may enter into aromatherapy, physiotherapy or occupational therapy as well as wellbeing sessions such as medicine management or dealing with fatigue.

We facilitate a wide range of group activities including arts, crafts, gardening and, (particularly liked around the wider hospice) baking. Sometimes, people will choose just to have a quiet chat with fellow patients, staff or our fantastic volunteers. They may want to sit in their own space for a while listening to a favourite piece of music.

I first joined Richard, one day in the Wellbeing Centre, while he was taking part in an art session with our creative therapies co-ordinator, Penny Lee, to hear his ideas for helping Wirral Hospice St John’s and to find out some more about his life.

Richard was involved in the Film, TV and entertainment business for over 40 years. During his time with us he was working on a ‘film’ storyboard with the intention of aiding future patients to feel comfortable when they are referred here. It’s a fantastic idea and one we’re looking to bring to fruition later this year.

I wanted to know more about Richard’s life and we talked at length.

By the early 1970’s he was a corporate lawyer working with the famous human rights lawyer Sir John Foster  in London. Sir John sent him on assignment to work on some of the contractual elements of a film being produced by legendary Hollywood film director, George Cukor (of 1964’s My Fair Lady fame), and Richard never looked back.

The film, Love among the Ruins, starred the movie legends, Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier. From thereafter Richard began to develop his creative instincts and deal with people who, in showbiz circles, are referred to as ‘the talent.’ His membership of the Royal Academy of Music where he’d been a chorister (Richard pictured here in his early teens) had maybe triggered his desire to work in the creative industries.Richard Goss 2 (3)

He began to manage some promising acts and in 1975 he worked on a spoof song about the American ‘cop’ shows that were big at the time (our older readers will remember Kojak, McCloud, Ironside, Columbo, Cannon and Hawaii Five-O). The song was called ‘King of the Cops’ sung by a British TV impressionist called Billy Howard.

King of the Cops reached number 6 in the UK singles pop charts on 18th January 1976. (It was just the small matter of Queen with Bohemian Rhapsody, and Abba with Mamma Mia fending off other talented artists at the time!

Richard’s wife, Angela, definitely has the X Factor. She was working with the Brian Rogers Connection dance group – famous as the regular troupe on Ted Rogers’ 3-2-1 – when she met Richard on the set of Summertime Special in the 1980’s.

Richard particularly liked it that Angela had been able to spend some time to herself while he was attending the Wellbeing Centre. After his eight week referral he and Angela spent time at our Evergreen Group meetings. A group for patients and their partners (or other carers) to share stories and experiences.

Richard gave a presentation to the group about his and Angela’s visit, in 2014, to Guangxi in China. It was a captivating insight into a part of the world, with it’s major conurbation, Liuzhou, being developed into a ground-breaking Forest City.

All of our staff and volunteers, alongside our other patients and their families, loved hearing Richard’s many life stories.

A thoroughly charming man. Rest in Peace, Richard.

On Wednesday evening of 24th April a Variety Night at Poulton Vics Social Club in Wallasey has been put together in tribute to Richard. Former World boxing champion, John H Stracey, enjoying a second career as a sensational crooner, is headlining a full show with other local artists. 

It’s £12.50 pp – with buffet included – and starts at 7.30pm all proceeds will go to support Wirral Hospice St John’s in providing our specialist clinical and nursing care and other patient and family support services.

Spotlight On: Mr Richard Hughes, a patient in our Wellbeing Centre #wirralhospice #wellbeing #inspiration #therapy #patientcare #nursing #wirral #hospicehero #thankyou

Richard HughesRichard Hughes loves the atmosphere in the Wellbeing Centre at Wirral Hospice St John’s. He’s well up for a laugh and a joke. He’s got loads of great stories, which he’s more than happy to share with us.

He has the most infectious chuckle too, which makes it a real pleasure, as well as a privilege, to spend some time with him finding out about his ‘real life.’

He was born in 1940 in Paignton, Devon. His dad, Frank, was a waiter on, what is now fondly called, The English Riviera. Sadly, Richard’s mum died when he was only 15 months old. When his dad met and married a new lady, “a wonderful woman who brought me up, Marguerite”, he had no real recollection of his birth Mum, Eva.

In later life, Richard and his family have traced Eva’s resting place to the picturesque village of Collaton St Mary, in South Devon. They’ve had a memorial plaque sited there in her honour and revisit the spot as often as possible.

Richard spent most of his childhood growing up in Liverpool. (His dad had moved to work for Napier’s, later English Electric (now BAE), which manufactured aeroplane engines and motor cars but also made ammunition for WWII). Richard’s a keen sportsman loving football, cricket and also, notably, basketball. In 1954, Richard was in the Prince Rupert school team which won the All Liverpool school’s championship.

Richard met his wife, Pamela, by a massive coincidence, in Torquay, near, you guessed itPaignton in Devon! Richard was on a holiday with his cousin revisiting the area where he was born and Pamela was living with her family in this most beautiful part of England.

Richard and PamelaThey were soon courting and married in 1966, at St John the Baptist Church in Tuebrook, Liverpool. Now, more than fifty-two years later, Richard simply says of Pamela, “I just love her to bits”. (Here’s Richard and Pamela pictured on the right).

They’ve got three daughters, Maria, Julie and Jennifer, and seven wonderful grandchildren, “The Magnificent Seven,” Richard warmly exclaims.

In his early career Richard, who left school at 15, worked as a cocktail bar tender at the old Strand Hotel in Liverpool. He tells a story about the time he prepared the punch for a very wealthy Liverpool family’s wedding. Mixing a cocktail of red wine, white wine, gin, other spirits and lots of fruit juice. The punch was literally flowing! So much so that he was asked by the family for his recipe. Richard laughs, “Blowed if I could remember what I put in it! If they’re still using the recipe I gave them, it definitely isn’t the one I used!”

The growing family moved out to North Wales, first to Queensferry and then onto Colwyn Bay  (it had been recommended that they move nearer to the sea for middle daughter, Julie, who had severe asthma). They spent 30 happy, very busy, years there. The house in Colwyn Bay had eight bedrooms and, for six of those years, they ran a popular B&B. It must have been brilliant as Richard tells me of the Irish people who came to stay for one night and ended up staying for 3 weeks!

Richard would prepare breakfast, then go to work in the local supermarket, back to serve dinner and then off to work in the evenings in a local pub. Now, that’s a full schedule!!!

They all became entwined in life in North Wales. Richard is proud to have been invited, with Pamela, to the 25th anniversary of the investiture of Prince Charles, as Prince of Wales, in Caernarvon in 1994.

A back problem, leading to spinal fusion for Richard, saw a change in direction, workwise, for the family. Pamela went to teach at Llandrillo College and Richard returned to college to study! After achieving his British National Diploma (BND) in public services. He joined the North Wales police service as a civilian officer. He worked in traffic and then in the crime statistics department. As a steward in NALGO (now UNISON) he endeavoured to improve the lives of all the support staff.

Richard loved the camaraderie of the workplace. Organising various trips, with theatre visits, days out to other parts of Wales, stately homes in England, London excursions and even a vacation in New York. All in all, another twenty three happy years.

Richard H 5Richard and Pamela enjoyed rambling. (Richard is captured here in his full walking accoutrements). There are some beautiful places in North Wales, and around Wirral, where such passion for striding out can be indulged. It was while in the North Wales police that Richard organised a walk to celebrate the millennium. People from all the police forces in the UK were invited to take part and eventually, 275 hardy souls set off on the, circa, 25 miles from Clwyd Gate, near Ruthin, to the coastal town of Prestatyn.

It’s more than a challenging distance and ‘undulating’ to say the least. There were check points all along the way for food (tons of scones and Bara Brith), loads of crisps, first aid posts (with blisters at a premium) and gallons of water. Richard giggles when he recalls the phone call he received on the Monday following this first walk, “which idiot organised that?” and then, after a short pause, Richard answered “I did, and we’ll be doing it all again, every other year!”

He gives great credit to Pamela for all the organisation and support. “She’s the greatest administrator, EVER!” He says proudly.

With the first one under their belt subsequent years became more popular, with the £10 entry fee going to the British Red Cross. Other people would also raise money for their own charities. Rock and Roll nights added to the fun, following the walk, which became, ‘The Walk you’ve been waiting for, from Mountain to the Sea’.

After moving to Irby in Wirral in 2006, Richard and Pamela continued with their love of walking. He became Walks Secretary of the Heswall Midweek Ramblers and they’ve completed many charity walks, including Hadrian’s Wall and a Metropolitan Police organised event in Windsor Great Park.

Richard and Lesley

Richard is open about his illness. He’s been living with prostate cancer and has received various hospice services. He’s spent time in Inpatients for pain relief. He’s laughing as he says, “it was the best B&B and hotel I’ve ever stayed in, well, after mine and Pam’s in North Wales that is!”

His weekly visit to the Wellbeing Centre sees him enjoying, often instigating, the banter while taking part in all the other activities he likes. (Richard’s pictured on the right here with our Wellbeing nurse, Lesley.) From jigsaws, other pastimes, group and individual discussions, quizzes and ‘play your cards right’, to physio and other helpful strategies and therapies to help with managing his condition.

Outside of the hospice he loves visiting his “favourite city”, Liverpool. Trips to the Walker Art Gallery and the Museum of Liverpool Life, (where son in law, Simon, helped install the IT systems) are especially enjoyable.

Richard’s feeling for the hospice staff and volunteers goes beyond admiration, he has a genuine fondness for them. He looks forward to his weekly visit to the Wellbeing Centre, “They’re all, simply, brilliant”, he says. When I check with all those who see him every Tuesday, I can assure Richard that they all say… the feeling is mutual!

It really is, Richard, it really is!

Clwyd GateView from Clwyd Gate (Thanks to Sue Warwick for photo)

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Heather MacLeod, spiritual care co-ordinator at #wirralhospice #spirit #spiritualsupport #inspirational #peace #palliativecare #wirral #hospicehero #thankyou

HeatherHeather MacLeod is the spiritual care co-ordinator at Wirral Hospice St John’s. As a minister in the United Reformed Church (URC) for many years, her deep belief underpins her vocation to bring spiritual peace to all of our patients and their families, regardless (it’s important to emphasise this) of background, ethnicity, gender, if they have a faith or if they’re non-religious.

Heather is just a great person to speak to. I felt it personally after we spent some time together to find out a little bit about her life both outside of and inside the hospice (of which, more later).

Heather’s dad, Bert, was from St Helens, and mum, Margaret, from Stirling in Scotland. They met when they were in the RAF during WWII. They were married in secret in 1945. Their love was strong and when Bert was posted to India he made the decision that a career travelling the world would allow less time to be with Margaret, so he left the RAF and moved back to the North West of England.

They lived in a flat over a butcher’s shop in Eccleston Street, in Prescot, before moving to a new council house in the town where Heather, and brother, Gordon, were brought up.

Margaret was a lady of strong faith and Heather describes being ‘dragged’ to Sunday School from around the age of 3, although, from a very early age, she began to enjoy the lessons and stories she would learn and hear. By her early teens Heather was being put in charge of Sunday School and the midweek youth club in her local community, “mainly because I’m not very good at saying no!” She adds.

Leaving school at 17, Heather went to work in the iconic Royal Liver Buildings as a tax officer. She dealt with thousands of employees of large companies such as Guinness and Lewis’s.

At the same time Heather was made an Elder at St John’s URC in Warrington. It was during these years, and when visiting family in Scotland, that Heather met her husband Neil. A family get together, where eyes met across a crowded room and, “love at first sight. Well, it was for Neil!” Heather laughs.

They settled in St Helens. By the time their children, Kirsty and Mathew (now 39 and 36), arrived, Heather was becoming more deeply involved in the church. The next step for Heather was to train for ministry. When she was ordained as a minister, in 1992, over 300 people gathered to celebrate at Heather’s new church, Marlowe Road URC, in Wallasey.

Heather’s church has made a significant contribution to good causes over the years. As well as supporting many local charities, they made a massive contribution to the people of Romania in the aftermath of the fall of the regime of  Nicolae Ceausescu. 

Heather made two trips to Romania. The first time with two tons worth of useful goods and provisions taken to the small mining town of Petrosani. The deprivation was indescribable but the visit meant that they could gather more targeted items for their return, a year later. Bedpans, medicines, heaters and all kinds of provisions for the local school and wider community made a massive difference to these fellow people’s lives.

So where, in this full life, did Heather find time to join us at Wirral Hospice St John’s? In the mid 90’s the hospice applied to all the local churches to see if there would be interest for a Chaplain to join us. Heather applied and to her complete surprise, following what she describes as a nervy and challenging interview,  she was appointed to the role.

She set about the task with relish. She sees her role to deliver spiritual care for ‘everybody’. This is not to say everybody requests, or is compelled, to meet with Heather, but many people do. Heather strives to understand, in each person’s case, what can bring them closer to ‘peace of mind’.Heather 2

This is not always a religious form of spirituality. People find their spirit in family, in nature, maybe in art, sport or music or, yes of course, in religion. Sometimes people just like to talk to Heather, in private or with their families around, reminiscing, about happy, and sad, times.

It is frequently the simplest thing that brings spiritual peace. Heather tells me about a gentleman who made it his mission to give his daughter away before he died. Also, the lady who wrote farewell letters to her grown up children and her brother. Then, another lady loved listening to the sea lapping on the shore. Heather arranged a CD with this as background music for the lady’s final days and hours, as she died peacefully here at the hospice.

There are innumerable stories like this. They are all part of hospice life and the spiritual service which Heather facilitates with great skill and heartfelt compassion.

In our Quiet Space at the hospice Heather has prepared important prayers from a number of faith groups and poems of inspiration, of life and of peace. If families need a break from time to time, because they do experience a whole range of emotions, they can retreat here to be with someone to chat with, or to be alone with their own thoughts.

Heather will also provide prayers and for Communion for those who have their faith in Christianity, and refer to other faith leaders for people who use the hospice services and have a different faith. Now, as a retired minister, and outside of her hospice work, Heather is still called upon for her experience and knowledge in the URC.

There are also five volunteer assistants, from a number of faith backgrounds. With their own experience and Heather’s guidance, they are also available for patients and their families to meet with. Heather asks me to thank them personally,  Veronica, Sister Catherine, Anne,  Julie and Barrie, for all that they do for the hospice.

Heather 3

Heather is very open and honest. I ask her about a time in her life when she personally turned to prayer as well as the support of medical teams, her family and her wider community to overcome breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2010 and underwent two lumpectomies that year and then onto a full mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy in 2011. “My church congregation, my family and my faith meant I felt peace throughout the whole time”.

Happily, by June 2018, following a number of years of checking, Heather was given the ‘all-clear.’ It’s an emotional thing to discuss and I certainly had a tear in my eye when she smiled after telling me.

Her other great joy nowadays is granddaughter Izzie. “Nine going on twenty nine” Heather smiles. She’s the light of our lives. A joy, a delight!”

Like you are, to all of us. Thank you, Heather.

%d bloggers like this: