Spotlight On: Wendie Darlington – Happy to “do whatever’s needed” for Wirral Hospice St John’s for the past 31 years #hospicehero #volunteer #wirralhospice #care #loveandsupport #hospicecare

Wendie DWendie Darlington is a lady who gets things done! Her mum and dad were farmers and, growing up on a farm, there was no time for dallying. She volunteers in Wirral Hospice St John’s Inpatient Ward every Wednesday morning between 9 and 11am and the hospice is eternally grateful that she does.

In fact, Wendie’s been volunteering here for more than 30 years. In that time she’s got stuck into every voluntary job asked of her. She says, “As a volunteer I’m just here to help and I’ll do whatever’s needed, anything that gives time to the clinical staff and nurses to do their vital jobs.”

Nowadays it is making sure the patients’ morning coffees, teas and biscuits are delivered with a smile, and often a friendly chat. Water jugs are collected and refreshed, tout suite. Any other help the kitchen team requests is met with Wendie’s trademark ‘can do’ attitude.

In her early days at the hospice, Wendie engaged in a whole host of tasks; ironing, washing up, preparing snacks and teas, cleaning in the kitchen, on the ward and, in fact, whatever was needed.

Like all Wirral Hospice St John’s volunteers she is incredibly humble. She gives her volunteer partners the credit for the smooth running of all their ward duties. One week it is Ronnie (Veronica Wilkinson) and the next is Barbara Pearce. She praises them for their dedication and commitment to our patients and staff team, without any acknowledgement of her own personal contribution.

After their shift, Wendie really enjoys catching up with Ronnie and Barbara for a coffee and a chat in the hospice Hub Café. That’s where I meet her to have a cuppa and find out a bit more about what drives her to help make a difference.

The truth is, her story starts with family heartbreak. Her Dad, Wally Charlesworth, was the farmer at Grange Farm, Raby.  When he was diagnosed with throat cancer at the age of 55 it hit Wendie’s family hard. Her mum, Marjorie, who loved Wally deeply and hadn’t had a day apart from him since they were married in their early 20’s, could not acknowledge the illness, much less submit to the necessary changes it would bring to their daily lives.

Wendie, 29 at the time, stepped into the carer’s role. It is right, or should be, that such circumstances are described, and recognised, as ‘full-time’ work. However, life doesn’t work quite like that. It certainly didn’t 40 years ago! Wendie balanced caring for her Dad with managing the family haulage business with husband, John. While their children, twins Mandy and Sarah, then 11, and new baby, Phillipa, were all in need of their Mum’s time.

Wally was treated at the legendary ‘military huts’ on the site where the now famous Clatterbridge Cancer Centre now stands. His illness was managed by the hospital but his personal needs were taken care of by Wendie, with no other formal support, from home. Wirral Hospice St John’s had not been established.

Wendie’s dad eventually succumbed to his illness. Marjorie, her mum, never stopped grieving, but did live a long life, dedicated to her work, until the age of 87.

So around five years after her dad died, a friend and neighbour of Wendie was admitted to the relatively new, St John’s Hospice. After visiting she found it slightly difficult to explain to people that she actually felt happy for her friend. “She was so content, never in pain. At the hospice she was receiving the exact right care I wished I could have had for my Dad. I wanted to get involved straightaway”.

We’re really glad she did! Thirty years of voluntary service at the hospice followed.

But, that’s not the end of Wendie’s story. Not only does she volunteer here she also volunteers for our local children’s hospice, Claire House. Having experienced the specialist support at Wirral Hospice St John’s she was a massive enthusiast for younger people having such a service. Quite right!

After meeting with Claire’s parents, Christine and Bobby Cain, she determined to help them to raise funds to get started. (Wendie really does not go into any more detail with me about her role in getting Claire House established and I had to do some more personal research). In 2011 she was awarded an MBE for services to Charity. She has helped to raise many, many thousands of pounds.

Wendie 2

She won’t talk about it, so I don’t push her. All I will say is that when you read all of the press quotes at the time, she gives credit to the other volunteers, her husband and daughters who have helped with everything down the years.

Nowadays, as well as her volunteering work, Wendie meets any challenges, as you’d expect, head on! She is taking great joy in seeing her grandchildren, Jack 17, Molly 13, Maisie 10 and Sadie 7 growing up.

There is huge appreciation here for the hours and hours of time Wendie has dedicated to Wirral Hospice St Johns, a massive acknowledgement of her other charity work and we’ll look forward to seeing her every Wednesday, working, helping, chatting and smiling on our Inpatient Ward.

All we can say honestly is, we really appreciate you, Our Wendie!

Author: Billy Howard

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Spotlight On: Geoff Shannon – adding a telescopic view of volunteering for Wirral Hospice St John’s #hospicehero #volunteer #wirralhospice #wirral #wellbeing

GeoffIf you get a chance, please spend a little bit of time with our Wellbeing Centre’s charismatic and engaging volunteer, Mr Geoff Shannon. He’s the kind of person, you just know, who will help you out if he can possibly do so.

He was recently spied across the hospice gardens ‘up-cycling’ (painting) some of Wellbeing Centre’s darker furniture into an eye-catching and bright, shabby chic! It was a nice day and a perfect opportunity to take a photo of one of Wirral Hospice St John’s ‘volunteers in action’.

A brief discussion allowed me to find out that Geoff was recently retired, was soon to be spending more time volunteering in the Wellbeing Centre and that he had actually previously been helping out for a year at the hospice’s main reception, every other Monday between 6pm and 9pm.

We asked Geoff’s permission to use the photo on Social Media. Some 3,000 people showed their love and support and, after also seeing several heartfelt comments, I knew we needed to find out some more about Mr Geoff Shannon so we had a chat over a cuppa in our Hub Café.

He began his career in 1970 at Plessey Telecommunications in Liverpool. From apprentice to fully qualified mechanical engineer over the next six years, Geoff was ready for pastures new. This was not only in his working life, in 1976 he married his sweetheart, Brenda. (These days Brenda also volunteers, at Arrowe Park Hospital).

A growing family, son Matthew and daughter Jenny, followed, and Geoff’s skills took him in many directions work-wise until he settled in Wirral. After spending 15 years at the world famous Champion Spark Plugs in Upton, Geoff bagged the mechanical engineer’s job of a lifetime.

Telescope Technologies, based at Twelve Quays in Wirral was originally set up to build a 2 meter optical telescope to search the cosmos from La Palma in the Canary Islands. The business was funded by Liverpool John Moores University and Canadian Entrepreneur, Dill Faulkes. Geoff was part of the team that built the telescope here, then took it apart again, and re-fitted it in place in La Palma. Nice Work, if you can get it!

The company’s ambition grew and Geoff subsequently worked in India, Australia, Hawaii and China, refitting and building telescopes, all making a significant contribution to our universal understanding of space. His final job before retiring was for the organisation, the National Oceanographic Centre, which owns our own Bidston Observatory in Wirral.

LUAL Geoff, Penny, AshleySo how does a space-age engineer find himself volunteering at Wirral Hospice St John’s? Well, after retirement, Geoff knew he wanted to give something back if he could. He was aware of Wirral Hospice St John’s in the same way many people are. He had a broad idea of what hospices do. He knew we ‘did good’. He knew we supported people with life-limiting illnesses.

So, just over a year ago and sitting in the Light Cinema in New Brighton waiting for a film (Geoff can’t remember which one – surely it was Blade Runner 2049?), the hospice’s ‘volunteering’ commercial was aired. He applied the next day!

Previously Geoff, and son Matthew, have raised funds for blood cancer charities. Matthew actually completed the New York Marathon and there is a reason for his choice of charity. For the past 8 years Geoff has been living with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia. It is a condition where white blood cells (lymphocytes) are overproduced in bone marrow. It is serious, but if diagnosed early can be treated for many years through careful monitoring of people’s lifestyle and diet. Geoff is living well with very few  interruptions to his daily life.

He and Brenda dote on their Granddaughter, Lucia, (Matthew and his wife Faye’s daughter) and have a lot more time to spend with her since retirement. Next year they’re all looking forward to daughter Jenny’s wedding to her fiancé, John. Very soon, Geoff’s skills are going to come in handy, working with our Wellbeing Centre patients on some really interesting activities, (We’ll definitely be keeping  you posted!)

Before long, I expect we’ll be seeing our first ‘live’ robot volunteer, or maybe a De Lorean time machine or even our own hospice telescope! Wirral Hospice St John’s Observatory, has a nice ring about it.

We’re all looking forward to seeing it, and you, our Geoff.

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Owen – A Hospice Hero at the ripe old age of, 11 #abseiling #fundraising #charity #events #wirral #wirralhospice #hospicehero

owen 1We love it when supporters of Wirral Hospice St John’s take on a challenge to raise funds for us.

Over the years, many thousands have undertaken a whole host of wonderful (sometimes weird!) activities and events. They’ve completed charity walks, run marathons, endured triathlons, sat in baths of beans, swum for miles, shorn their locks, climbed mountains, jumped out of aeroplanes and much, much more. The funds they raise help us to continue to provide our specialist care services, free of charge, for the people of Wirral.

People embark on these pursuits for all sorts of reasons. It might be that they witness the services we provide for their family members or friends, at first hand. They may know people who are staff and volunteers here or, perhaps they read about the essential services we provide on information leaflets, or on social media, and they just wanted to help.

Whatever the reason, we really appreciate them ONE AND ALL.

We’re always delighted to see young people taking part for us, sometimes joining their families on walks and a host of other activities.

So, when 11 year old Owen told his mum that he wanted to abseil down a tall building to raise money for the hospice, we were fascinated to find out, why? We wanted to know what motivates a young person to choose to raise money for our charity. Like any good story, a series of life events and circumstances combined to bring young Owen to his inspiring decision.

Owen was born in March 2007. His mum, Kate, had been pregnant at the same time as her good friend and neighbour, Karen. By happy coincidence they spent time on the maternity ward together, cementing their friendship. Karen’s little girl, Sadie, was born two days before Owen.

Karen and Kate remained strong friends in the following years and young Owen and Sadie, living close by in the same road, were like brother and sister. The birth of Owen’s brother Archie, two years later, added to this ‘extended family’ dynamic.

Life went on with its everyday joys and, with the children growing up and playing well together, all was well. That is, until four years later, Sadie’s mum Karen was diagnosed with lung cancer. Huge challenges lay ahead.

Intensive specialised treatment at Clatterbridge followed, enabling periods of relief, remission and respite. The love and support of her many friends, most significantly Kate’s family at that time, enabled Karen to live as full a life as possible with Sadie.

Karen was supported here at Wirral Hospice St John’s. She experienced life affirming activities within our Wellbeing Centre (then known as Day Therapy). She was later admitted to our inpatients ward, once her condition began causing the kind of pain and discomfort our specialist treatment is designed to stabilise.

In August 2016, after five years of living with her illness, Karen died.

In the times when her mum was ill, young Sadie had spent many hours with mum’s friend Kate, her partner Derek and sons Owen and Archie. As life continued, as it has to, Sadie’s Auntie Veronica (Ronnie) took on guardianship and now Sadie is settled with her family.

Karen’s friend Kate is our Kate. She works here at the hospice as one of our lottery administrators having been a hospice volunteer before that, working with the education team, at the time of Karen’s illness. When the chance of a job in the lottery team came up she applied successfully and has been here ever since. She loves her role at the hospice and, inevitably, the work of the hospice features in many family discussions. Young Owen and, increasingly, Archie know of the activities people undertake to raise funds for us.

Owen came to the hospice one day during the school holidays with his mum (already a young ‘volunteer’ his mum had him stuffing some envelopes for the lottery team!). It was just after his school trip to The Conway Outdoor Arts and Education Centre in Anglesey (you know the kind of place: character-forming, outdoors, sailing, hiking and, particularly captivating for Owen, abseiling).

If you’ve seen our ‘Take on a Challenge display banner, sometimes on the roadway here, you may have noticed the silhouette on the side showing a person descending a steep precipice. On the way into the hospice Owen saw the banner and told Kate, “I can do that mum.”

With that small phrase, another ‘Hospice Hero’ was developing.

The ideal place for the task presented itself while the family were walking the Wirral Way near Moreton, Leasowe Lighthouse! A quick Google search confirmed that the lighthouse hosted regular abseiling events with qualified instructors and, even though just 11, Owen was ready to take on his first challenge for the hospice.

So, with fundraising plans in place and sponsorship forms drawn up, family, friends and neighbours rallied around to support Owen. Mum and dad encouraged their pals to dig deep. People were very happy to help raise and contribute funds for the hospice in memory of Karen.

The day arrived and alongside other people (all adults) Owen, safety equipment secured, climbed over the supporting rail and began his descent down 110 feet of lighthouse.

owen 2Five minutes later, after a couple of pauses to catch a breath and with mum Kate’s heart in her mouth, Owen completed his abseil challenge. Lots of whooping, cheering and hugging ensued.
Then it was time to count up the donations!

In this one challenge Owen had raised a fantastic £756 for the hospice. He’d also, demonstrated his support for Sadie, honoured the memory of Karen, made his mum, dad and younger brother swell with pride and, gained the respect of many more of his family, friends and neighbours.

Well done our Owen, everybody at Wirral Hospice St John’s is truly honoured by your efforts!

Author: Billy Howard

 

Spotlight On: Jill Littlewood, Clinical Manager for the Inpatient Unit at #wirralhospice – #nurse #palliativecare #wirral #hospicehero

 Jill DrinksFor Jill, everything is about putting the patients of  Wirral Hospice St John’s at the heart of all that we do. “The care we give has been greatly enhanced by the development of the services we provide, both here and out in our Wirral communities. The various hospice teams that support our patients and their families, get together regularly to agree the best ways in which we can help our patients live as full a life as possible.”

Jill joined the hospice in January 2014, and as Inpatients Ward Manager, she has a very busy job that she finds wholly fulfilling. This fact shines out of every sentence she utters. “I love the passionate commitment of the people I work with; the staff and the volunteers. We all care about the wellbeing of our patients and their families and, professionally, I couldn’t work with a better team. Sometimes, the work is challenging but we help each other, as we do with our patients, over a cup of tea and a chat. Sometimes I need to look after the team and sometimes they have to look after me.”

After serving 40 years in the health services, 37 as a nurse, Yorkshire born Jill has seen it all. So, how did she choose her profession? “At 16 I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My dad worked as a catering manager at Huddersfield Hospital and he got me a job in the kitchen! I’ve always loved cooking – people at the hospice will tell you about my baking – so I went to college to do a catering course. I really enjoyed it but as I was also working in the hospital I realised that I could do more to help if I became a nurse. I studied at Huddersfield Hospital and lived there, at the nurse’s home, until I gained my qualifications”.

Since then a full and varied career has seen Jill honing her expertise to the greater benefit of our patients. Having worked across the whole spectrum of nursing; in operating theatres, in ICUs, gynaecology and, with 22 years as a district nurse in Chester, Jill now pursues her ultimate vocation, palliative care.

“Wirral Hospice St John’s is the best place in the world for us to support people, often at the most challenging time for them and their families. Our job is to get people who may be experiencing uncontrolled pain or severe discomfort, as a result of their illnesses, back to their own home environment. Patients come to us at the Inpatient Ward when referred to the hospice by a hospital doctor, GP, district nurse or other healthcare professional.

People are generally admitted for, up to, an initial two week period, depending on the progress of their individual illnesses. Patient’s needs; physical, psychological and spiritual, are all catered for so that they can look forward to a return to familiar surroundings as soon as we can stabilise their condition.

Once people return home they can also receive our Hospice at Home service which, as well as providing a regular friendly and familiar face from the hospice, supports partners, family members (often 24-hr carers) and other carers to take a little time of their own to tend to their own wellbeing. So while Hospice at Home is with the patient, their carers might be shopping or be able to take a short break for a couple of hours.

In her ‘real’ life Jill is happily married to Steve (a retired Psychiatrist) whom she met in her home county of Yorkshire some 40 years ago. She has two children, Rachel and Anthony, who have both blessed her in the last couple of years with her precious granddaughters. Oldest granddaughter, Olivia, is two (she features a little later in this story), while, only 10 weeks ago, Anthony’s partner, Felicity, gave birth to Daisy, granddaughter number two.

Olivia has already written her place in hospice history by introducing ‘Granny’ Jill to internet viral sensation the Baby Shark challenge. Jill was so taken by the fun they were both having learning the moves to the song that she shared with colleagues, Infection Control nurse, Chantelle Hardman, Nicola D’Amelio, Clinical Governance Manager and Ward Sister, Clare Norman.

It was deemed a fun challenge to get more of the hospice team involved in. So Pied Piper, Jill, gathered up a growing number of willing participants and within an hour or so the music was played, the Baby Shark challenge was met and the video recording shared on the hospice’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. It has reached more than half a million people to date, featured on BBC Breakfast, Lorraine and other media channels, including The Daily Mirror’s Facebook page.

Another of Jill’s passions is for singing! A proud member of the Chester Operatic Society, she puts her ability to great use for the hospice in early December, helping our Carol Choir to hit the right notes to add to the ambience of our annual Light up a Life switch on service.

So, sing it from the rooftops, Jill’s legacy at the hospice is secure. After 39 years as a nurse, Jill tells us that she takes most pleasure in helping younger  – her words – staff and nurses to develop into their roles at Wirral Hospice St John’s. She sees her role as helping those people to “get skilled up, to do well and to get on”.

What is certain is that the future is bright for Wirral Hospice St John’s if those younger people listen to, and learn from, our Jill Littlewood.

Author: Billy Howard

It’s Occupational Therapy Week #OTWEEK2017 we’d like you to meet Katy Firth, our very own Occupational Therapist!

crop katie firthTell us a little bit about yourself
I have recently moved to the North West from Southampton but I am originally from Whitley Bay on the North East coast and I did my training at York St John University.

Before moving here I worked in University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. I worked there for five years and I did a number of rotations including acute oncology and it was there where I found my passion for oncology and palliative care. Prior to moving I worked within acute oncology as a static member of staff for just over a year and whilst I was there I completed a master’s module in palliative care.

My parents still live in the North East but most of the rest of my family live in Lancashire and my twin sister lives in Manchester so being back closer to family inspired mine and my husband’s move to the North West. I am an active person who enjoys outdoor activities and I am active member of the scout association.

How long has Wirral Hospice been a part of your life?
I have only been at the hospice for two months and I have really appreciated how welcoming and friendly everyone has been.

What are your Hospice Highlights?

  • The warm and approachable staff and volunteers
  • The green space around the hospice that helps create a calm environment
  • To have joined such a friendly and supportive team.


What does hospice care mean to you?
To me, hospice care means working together as a multidisciplinary team to provide holistic person centred care to people who have life limiting illnesses, to empower them to live life as independently and fully as possible. As an occupational therapist my role is to support people to live not just exist. By enabling patients to maintain their independence and engagement in everyday and meaningful activities, whilst supporting them to cope with their changing condition, helping them understand and adapt to the changes that they are experiencing in everyday life.

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