Spotlight On: Bill Collins, 80 years young and a #wirralhospice #volunteer for more than 30 years #hospicehero #caring #fundraising #congratulations #wellbeing #patientcare #wirralcommunity

Bill Collins with CaroleDevoted Wirral Hospice St John’s volunteer, Mr Bill Collins, speaks from the heart, “I love the place, I love the people, I just love everything about it!”

Bill is a big part of hospice life. He’s volunteered at Wirral Hospice St John’s for over 30 years, and, nowadays, he adds massive value to our inpatients ward every Tuesday evening. He feels the special emotions of Christmas time too – he has given two or three hours of his time every Christmas and Boxing Day for all of those years.

On the Inpatient ward at the hospice, Bill will serve patients and their families with drinks, make sure people have fresh water and, whenever asked, will be available for a welcome chat. Our volunteers help to take some of the time pressures from the ward staff and, although Bill won’t take credit, we know it must be more than a little cheering and interesting for any patient, or family member, who spends a little time just chewing the fat with Bill.

He doesn’t say it but, it’s clear from our conversation, Bill is also a team player. He always wants to mention the hard work and dedication of fellow volunteers, especially his friend Margaret Halewood who has been volunteering with him on the ward for 25 years. He also credits volunteer receptionists Tina Hughes and Karen Ellis, who are part of the Inpatients ward Tuesday evening volunteer group.

When asked what he thinks of the hospice and the people he meets or works alongside, his passion shines through; “I think the world of them, I’m just so proud to be a part of it. All our services and all the different people, patients, families, volunteers and staff, we’re like a family”,

Bill Collins

Bill got involved with volunteering after his own Mum, Nell’s, progressive illness worsened and he spent time as the main carer for her and later when his Dad, Jack, also became ill. He’d taken early retirement from Shell at their Thornton research facility, now part of the University of Chester, where he’d been a laboratory steward, to fulfil his carer’s role.

After his Mum passed away, Bill was asked to consider volunteering at Wirral Hospice St John’s. He remembers applying and as soon as his ‘induction’ was completed he “loved it straight away.” Joyce Reeves (later Jones) was the first Matron of the hospice, serving between 1983 and 1998. He fondly recalls Matron Jones as “a wonderful woman.”

He chuckles heartily when he recounts the time the hospice obtained its first bed hoist. The nurses insisted that Bill was the ideal candidate to test the equipment. “I was like a puppet suspended in mid-air, while the nurses were enjoying the spectacle, laughing their heads off.” (It would be a ‘Health and Safety’ thing nowadays, so new volunteers shouldn’t worry!)

Bill keeps himself fit by swimming four times a week, doing plenty of walking and looking in on his ‘older’ neighbours in Bromborough. What is remarkable, and might be news to some of his friends around the hospice, is he had a triple heart by-pass in 2001! Typical of Bill, he plays it down! “I’ve just listened to the doctors, I watch what I eat and I’ve had no major problems!”

We’re really glad to hear it, Bill.

He enjoys his holidays and short breaks. Trips to North Wales are a pleasure he thoroughly enjoys but, most of all, Bill looks forward to his annual trip to the Algarve, with a gang of people who have become firm friends over the years. He stays in a little village called Sesmarias not far from the tranquil Praia de Coelha beach and a short drive into the bustling town of Albufeira. Lovely!

Bill Collins 2

Bill helps the hospice in other ways too. Each year he helps to run the St Barnabas church hall Christmas Fayre, in Bromborough, with his good friend, Betty Richards. The first year he did this he made £63 and now, following this year’s event, selling hospice Christmas cards and calendars, Bill has now raised over £25,000 since becoming a volunteer.

By writing a special poem in recent years for our annual Light up a Life switch-on service in the hospice gardens, Bill has also made an extra special contribution to the whole Wirral community.

This year’s poem  is so poignant and I ask Bill where he gets his inspiration. “I think of all the people I’ve met at the hospice down the years. I write for the families who have been touched by what we do, my mum and dad, and my sister, Barbara, and her family. Being involved as a volunteer has made me a better person.”

Here is Bill’s heartfelt poem:

Memories in Lights

You’re in my thoughts every single day,
Of things we did and things we’d say,

How we laughed, the times we cried,
Always together, side by side.

When we hugged and when we kissed,
The times we sat and reminisced.

It’s hard to take, now we’re apart
But you’re forever in my heart.

I see your face within the light,
And feel you’re here, with me, tonight.

Wonderful, Bill!

In a magnificent coincidence, this inspiring story is published on Bill’s 80th birthday (6th December, 2018).

Some, of his very many, hospice friends gathered to say, “Many Happy Returns, Bill, thank you so much for all that you do for Wirral Hospice St John’s.”

Bill Collins 80 Group

Author: Billy Howard


Spotlight On: Jane Slack, a calling for caring! #nursing #hospicehero #wellbeing #wirralhospice #lifelonglearning #caring #honoursdegree #congratulations #thankyou

Jane Slack“Kind, considerate, caring, and compassionate” are some of the words colleagues, volunteers and patients have used when I ask them to describe our senior nurse, Jane Slack. She is currently acting Deputy Clinical Services Manager (covering maternity leave) in our Wellbeing Centre. She’s been at Wirral Hospice St John’s for 11 years and, while other terms, “reliable, passionate, fun, engaging” are also descriptions I hear of Jane, we can now add another one, ‘brainy.’

We already knew that Jane was intelligent and knowledgeable but she’s just proved it by gaining her BN (Hons) degree in palliative and end of life care from the University of Chester. The degree represents a significant academic qualification to back up Jane’s experience and expertise.

Passing modules in symptom management, general palliative care, loss and grief, advanced communication, leadership and, of course, evidence based practice have enhanced Jane’s performance and expanded on her natural ability.

So, what exactly motivates our Jane Slack?

“Well” she explains, “I was brought up in a home where the door was always open. My mum and dad are caring people. They’re always ready for a kind word over a cup of tea, some sage advice, they were actually my guiding lights“.

You see, Jane’s dad, Richard, is a retired vicar and his mission in life, together with Jane’s mum, Barbara, because of their faith, to show God’s love to people.

Jane was brought up in Malaysia, where her mum and dad were missionaries for the Anglican Communion. Richard trained new priests and workers for the church and, in fact, the current Archbishop of SE Asia was one of his students.

When the family returned to the UK it was no surprise that Jane’s first degree was in RE. She studied at St Martin’s in Lancaster, now part of the University of Cumbria. Interestingly St Martin of Tours, whom the college was named after was a Roman soldier who tore his cloak in two to clothe a beggar, renouncing the life of a soldier to take on a life of caring!

It was a natural progression for Jane to get involved in a career in nursing. She started her hospice journey at the renowned St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds on the in-patients ward and had now realised her vocation. Jane loved working on the ward and learned of the strength of families and other carers when they might be facing some of the most challenging times with loved ones.

To our great benefit, marriage, to Kevin, a barrister based in chambers in Liverpool, meant that Jane was to make the move across the Pennines to find a home in our appealing Wirral peninsular and also a job as a Band 5 nurse, bringing her skills and expertise to our Inpatient ward.

“I really love my job. I love how the hospice, specifically, can care for people really well. By sharing experience and also studying I know that we bring the most up to date care that we can possibly give. I never stop admiring how much people’s relatives love and support their loved ones. This has helped me gain an appreciation and understanding what everyone is going through.”

And here we are 11 years later. Jane is a Band 6 nurse. She credits the Wolfson Foundation (a philanthropic organisation which, in association with Hospice UK, offers funding for education in healthcare) for helping with a bursary grant for her nursing degree. She tells me her wonderful Mother-in Law, Judith, has also been very supportive throughout.

Jane and AshleyHere’s Jane on the right of the picture (we’re going to feature ‘our’ Ashley too (on the left), in a couple of weeks, after she gained her foundation degree in health and social care).

In Jane’s other ‘real life’ she and Kevin are inspiring their boys, Henry, 8, and Barnaby, 4, to lead as good a life as possible. In ‘our’ Jane’s hands we’re sure that a bright future lies ahead for two, positively enlightened, young men.

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

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

Joanne Cawley and Sons to switch on our lights at Light up a Life 2018 #lightupalife #wirralhospice #wirral #hospicecare #wellbeing

Joanne Cawley and FamilyWirral Hospice St John’s will be lighting up the hospice gardens with 10,000 beautiful lights this December. Light up a Life has been raising much needed funds for the hospice ever since the first service in 1996.  The switch-on is a really special event which brings together our whole Wirral community to remember those special to them.

This year the lights will be switched on by Joanne Cawley in memory of her mum, Ruth Size, accompanied by her sons, James 13, and Luke 9. Ruth had been first diagnosed with mouth cancer in 1972 and received treatments and therapies that helped her live a full family life until, in January 2009, she was given the completely distressing news that her cancer had returned.  Following an operation to replace Ruth’s jawbone she found difficulty with eating, drinking and talking but she gained a further 8 years, cancer free. In February 2016, the cancer re-appeared and Ruth started receiving palliative care.

Ruth was referred to Wirral Hospice St John’s and attended the Day Therapy Unit, now known as the Wellbeing Centre.  She was apprehensive at first, finding it difficult to communicate with others due to her speech problems.  Her daughter Joanne accompanied her to the first few sessions. They were soon made to feel at ease, being welcomed by our compassionate team of staff and volunteers.

In May 2017 Ruth was admitted onto our In-patient ward and stayed with us for a month.  She received our specialist care which gave Ruth’s husband, Martin (Joanne’s Dad), some peace of mind and much needed respite. Ruth’s wish to die at home was very much respected. A full care package was put in place to support Ruth, complete with equipment for her to use at home.  Following further support from our Hospice at Home team, alongside both community and Macmillan nurses, Ruth died peacefully at home in July 2017, aged 71.

Martin and daughter, Joanne, both received bereavement counselling from Wirral Hospice St John’s. Martin was a member of a bereavement group which helped him talk to others spouses who had lost their partners. Six months after Ruth died, Martin was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In August 2018 Martin died suddenly from a stroke.

Joanne Cawley and Family 2Martin was very proud and thrilled that Joanne and her two sons, James and Luke, were asked to switch on the lights at the Light up a Life service. Joanne said “It is such an honour and privilege to be asked to switch on the lights, as each light has its own special story. This is only our second year at Light up a Life, but will now be our family tradition every year.  We will always remember my mum and my dad and will light up their lives with a light for each of them.  Although they are not here with us they will never be forgotten and are always close in our hearts ”

The service will be held in the hospice gardens on Sunday 2nd December at 5.30pm.  The carol service is free to attend and all are welcome to come along to remember their loved ones.  For each light that is sponsored your loved one’s name will be included in the books of honour and you will receive a Light up a Life card in their memory.  The books will be on display in the hospice from 4pm on 2nd December and will remain on display throughout the Christmas period.

Web squareFor a suggested minimum donation of £5 per light you can sponsor a Light in memory of a loved one. Light up a Life keepsake tree decorations are available for a donation from £3.00 (including postage).  To donate to the campaign please call 0151 343 0778 or visit to make a donation online.

We also invite Businesses to sponsor a light from £50.00. All businesses will be included in the event programme and in the books of honour.

Julia Evans, Fundraising Manager said “I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported Light up a Life over the past 22 years.  Our lights can be sponsored in memory of your loved one whether you have a connection to the Hospice or not. Each light represents someone special who is loved and remembered.”


%d bloggers like this: