Spotlight on Donna Ellis – our green-fingered patient, integral to the Wirral Hospice St John’s garden make-over team #hospicehero #patientcare #hospice #wellbeing #gardening #supporter

Donna 4

     The Hospice Garden (adopted)

“How many kinds of sweet flowers grow,

In our Wirral Hospice garden?

(We’ll tell you below of some that we know,

Those we miss you’ll surely pardon).

Daffodil’s, Heart’s Ease and Phlox,

Meadowsweet and Lady Smocks,

Gentian, lupine and tall hollyhocks,

Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, blue forget-me-nots,

In our Wirral Hospice Garden.

This might be Wirral Hospice St John’s summer anthem for 2019 as we’ve completed the garden makeover in time for our Open Garden event this weekend 29th and 30th June, 2019. (Many thanks to Jimmie F Rodgers, the American folk singer, who penned (most of) those evocative words. It’s set to a traditional English tune which is said to have been arranged in the sixteenth century).

We also thought that the timing was perfect to share somebody’s story who knows about gardens and gardening. Someone who has helped in the planning and preparation, someone who is a patient (nay, “a person”) who has attended our Wellbeing Centre and has become a friend, and has also given her own time, at the hospice.

Donna Ellis is that person.

Whenever I see her she’s ready with a broad smile and a friendly greeting. She has an engaging laugh and a twinkle in her eye despite, it is fair to say, having to cope for several years with the really complex health conditions that life has thrown at her.

When she first came to us in the Wellbeing Centre it took a couple of visits to establish that her passion in life was in bringing life to plants and flowers. Our job is to help people to optimise their lives and, where possible, to continue to be involved in, and carry on doing, the things they enjoy.

Soon she’d agreed with Helen Parkinson, our clinical services manager for Wellbeing, that she should cultivate a little bed of flowers near to the entrance to Outpatients. This has been accomplished with aplomb and the results are there, for all to see.

So, ever since we decided to prepare for an Open Garden we’ve consulted with Donna, as well as other patients and volunteers, to bring it to fruition.

She’s been getting stuck in on extra days, with husband Alan providing the muscle (and who also has an eye for gardening) to move shrubs while Donna applies some finesse to new planting.

Donna 3I sat with Donna the week before our Open Garden event to find out a little bit more about her, while she was also attending to a large pot of flowers, being lovingly nurturing for our display.

Born and Bred in Wirral, Donna was brought up in New Ferry. She’s the youngest, by 10 years, of 4 children. Maybe this is why, it becomes clear, she felt so close to her mum, Mary, and feels her loss very keenly. She also loves her dad, Ken, who still lives in her childhood home and who, with Mary, taught her to love gardens, planting and gardening.

Dad built his own timber frame greenhouse for seasonal veg. They never ran out and they’d share the produce, sprouts, tomatoes, cucumber and cauliflower with their neighbours. Donna remembers that one side of the garden was lawn and the other would be for growing plants and flowers to coincide with the seasons.

Donna would sit for hours watching, learning and eventually joining in. What is now clear is that she inherited her Mum and Dad’s green-fingers.

She’s telling me all this while attentively ‘dead-heading’, removing brown leaves and planting new flowers in a huge pot,

Donna Pots“This is skimmia, lovely red flowers in the winter. I’m gonna build up this antirrhinum and plant the rest of the bed around it. It will give it some height. Ooh, a bit of vine weevil here to remove. Can you pass the dianthus and those lupins?”

I’m thinking: I don’t know what it all means, but it looks brilliant!

At school, St John Plessington in Bebington, she gained 10 GCSE’s and 4 ‘A’ Levels. She loved theatre studies and wrote and starred in a play, Outside the Bathroom Door, ultimately attaining a Grade 8 qualification for acting, awarded by the Royal College of Music.

At 18, Donna was at a real crossroads. Whether to study for a degree in divinity or to pursue her other calling, nursing? Nursing won and, after 3 years training at Arrowe Park and Clatterbridge hospitals, she qualified as a Registered General Nurse (RGN) at 21 years of age.

Donna and AlanWhile training she was working at the Gateway Supermarket in Bebington where she met Alan (pictured here, on one of our garden makeover days, with Donna),

“Alan was shy when he was younger and I was quite ‘gobby’. But I thought he was the bees knees, he had a Nissan Sunny which I thought was luxury. We laugh now when we look back – it was really an ‘ol’ banger!”

I’m laughing because it’s the way she tells it!

The first time Alan said he had ‘something important to ask’, Donna‘s eye’s roll as she recalls it was to ask her to move in together! Not the proposal she was expecting, but it was only a matter of time before they were married.

In her late 20’s and early 30’s Donna’s struggles with illness really began to take over her life. A very difficult pregnancy which, happily, did bring their daughter, Jess, into the world had been fraught with complications on top of Donna’s developing ill health.

Donna describes the moment when Jess came into the world,

“Throughout pregnancy I carried a condition which brought cruel pain. I had truly believed there was little hope for the life growing inside me. So it was a miracle when, there she was, a beautiful baby girl, 8lb 3oz, with a mass of black hair and long legs. I was the happiest person alive.”

Like it has to, life carried on, and Donna was beginning to live with ever-more complex conditions. She has a diagnosis of eosinophilic (brittle) asthma. This is a life-limiting condition in itself, however, a treatment, especially formulated for the asthma, brings her some blessed relief.

But, in the last 4 years, Donna has also had to combat blood clots, infections and sleep apnoea. Perhaps most challenging of all she developed MRSA sepsis which needed a high dosage of three antibiotics. A reaction damaged her middle ear, which has resulted in permanent vertigo, and she has become reliant on her mobility ‘walker’. She does add, (surprisingly cheerfully in her circumstance), “It’s three wheels. One for each member of our little family.”

Brittle asthma can lead to a referral for hospice care. Donna admits that before coming to Wirral Hospice St John’s she was at her very lowest ebb. She’d been an accomplished RGN in a career she loved and now she felt like all she was, was a hindrance.

Her initial reaction to being referred to the hospice was, like many people, a little trepidation. Best to use Donna’s own words here after she had asked herself at the time, “Am I dying?”

The answer is NO! I started to realise I still had a lot to offer. I needed to deal with my illnesses and look forward. The hospice provides me with pain relief but so much more. No-one says, ‘there is nothing more we can do for you’.

I feel like a special person getting individual attention. I feel privileged actually, as not everyone takes up the experience. It’s a place where I can be myself, just ‘me’. My family know that I relish going into the hospice. They look forward to the stories I share when I go home. I have remembered who I am, having spent time with the hospice’s attentive and skilled staff, dedicated volunteers, and, in fact, fellow patients with their own challenges. Laughter is a big part of life at the hospice.

I feel like I’m a Mum and Wife again. I just hope my experience will inspire other people to embrace the hospice should they be referred. It has made such a positive impact on my life.”

Donna Xmas

Wow!

Donna now has a further complication, an Aortic Dissection. Her blood pressure has to be constantly monitored and she has to engage in calming activities to maintain a steady rate.

So, it’s a good job that gardening provides just such a past time. She’s become a fixture during our Garden Makeover volunteering days and we all love to see her. Her impact is immeasurable and without doubt the garden would not have been quite as beautiful as it has turned out to be, without her, and Alan’s, help, in time for our Open Garden weekend. 

You can imagine that we had to be especially gentle when we also told Donna the barnstorming news that that she would be being interviewed for BBC TV’s North West Tonight! We recently received the news that, to our great privilege, Wirral Hospice St John’s has secured the right to site the North West Tonight Sunshine Garden, in memory of weather presenter, Dianne Oxberry, here, following its showcase at The RHS Tatton Flower Show in July.

AND, She Smashed it! Of Course. See the video here.

Thank You Donna from, deeper than, the bottom of our hearts.

Author: Billy Howard

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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

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.

Spotlight on Susan Seed: A hospice supporter since day one #hospicehero #wirralhospice #caring #donating #fun #community #thankyou

Sue A“Do you think you can do anything with this handbag, dear?” Sue Seed pops into Wirral Hospice St John’s fundraising with a brand new bag she’s been gifted. “It’s no good to me you see, and I thought you could maybe offer it in a raffle or in the charity shops?” Sue often brings in items we can use and, after being around the hospice, ever since it opened, we’re always pleased to see her.

You’ll also catch her in our Hub Café, usually on a Tuesday and Thursday, enjoying a coffee and a catch-up with the staff and whoever else is around for a friendly chat. (Sue is pictured here on the left with Thelma and Carol from The Hub). Here’s a handy tip; Say hello to Sue and you’ll learn about all kinds of subjects, from TV dramas to Strictly Come Dancing, ham radio to Liverpool FC!

Sue is 84 years young now and has retired from volunteering. Her and husband, Alec, lived in Bebington when he retired from Shell in 1982. After spending some time enjoying their retirement together, Alec was also looking to ‘put something back.’ They began volunteering at the newly opened St John’s Hospice from the very beginning. Sue recalls our first matron, Matron Jones, as a lady brimming with hospice values

For more than 20 years Sue and Alec volunteered together. (Sue had also been volunteering at Clatterbridge Hospital for the WRVS in their tea bar). At Wirral Hospice St John’s they provided essential general support duties in our Inpatients ward  and they became immersed in all the events and occasions the hospice, and its supporters, put on for our whole Wirral community.

Sue and PatriciaSue, maiden name Currie, is from London. Her father had fought and survived World War 1 but sadly died in 1937 when Sue, and her twin sister, Patricia (Sue, aged 19, is on the left of their picture here) were only three years old. Sue also remembers them hiding under the stairs during World War 2 when the family lived in East Sheen, in south west London.

She reminisces about watching the air dog-fights between fighter aircraft and searching for shrapnel after the battles had ended. In the summer holidays the whole school would relocate to Yorkshire.

Between the ages of 18 and 21, Sue worked in the City of London. After the war, her mother moved around Greater London quite a bit until settling in Potters Bar when Sue was around 21. She then worked as a shorthand typist for the Diocesan Office of St Alban’s until she was twenty three.Sue Alec

At this time Sue visited a friend of her mum’s, ‘Auntie Jess’, (Mrs Seed), who lived in Wirral. She’d been unaware that Auntie Jess had a son, Alec, it was love at first sight!

They were married the very next year at Christ Church in Potters Bar. Over forty six years they built a life together, travelling around Europe. They loved the Canaries (*where the picture on the right was taken) and owned timeshare there. They also spent a lot of time at their caravan in the picturesque Shropshire retreat of Ellesmere.

Alec had been in the RAF during the war, working ground crew servicing Spitfires and Lancaster Bombers. Here he gained a lifelong interest in amateur radio, which Sue also enjoyed. He loved airshows and shared his love for Liverpool FC with Sue.

In 1992 they discovered that Alec had a heart condition. He lived as full a life as possible still, for another 12 years. He sadly died, in 2004.

Sue speaks to twin sister, Patricia, every night on the phone! Patricia lives in Norwich with her husband Tony, who is now 87, and Sue has three nephews and a niece all of whom she adores. Jenny, David, Timothy and Simon, have also given Sue between them, seven grand nieces and nephews. “They’re all brilliant.” she says, beaming!

Sue Seed

As well as her generous offers of material things for the hospice to raffle or sell, Sue collects some monthly membership fees for the hospice lottery for us. She also makes kind monetary donations to the various ‘giving’ initiatives we promote which help us to keep providing our essential nursing and care services at the hospice.

Sue has a distinctive ‘southern’ accent which has a charming lilt. Look out for her in the Hub Café and say hello! I promise you, it will be time well spent!ellesmere 2(Sue’s favourite view of Ellesmere – picture courtesy of shropshire-guide.co.uk)

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Penny Lee: Co-ordinating Life Affirming Activities in our Wellbeing Centre # wirralhospice #wellbeing #caring #fun #thankyou #hospicecare #hospicehero

PennyThe ancient Greeks were pioneers in many fields which still impact modern life. Some people, and the subject areas they specialised in, are universally famous. We’ve all heard of Hippocrates in medicine, Socrates in philosophy and Pythagoras in mathematics.

Wirral Hospice St John’s applies learning, practise and innovation in all of those fields: Progressive treatments and therapies for the relief of pain and discomfort in Medicine contribute to the essential work of the hospice; Philosophy is used in strategies which inform coping, counselling and caring for patients and their families; And, we also employ basic Mathematics, not least when counting up the many donations generous supporters make, which help us to provide our vital services.

One more area, for which we are indebted to the ancient Greeks is, Art! The way they found expression in art is still inspiring the various forms we see today. At the hospice we’re especially lucky to have a special modern descendant of Greece, our Wellbeing Centre creative therapies co-ordinator, Penny Lee!

Penny is Greek? Well, actually, Penny, (is there a more English sounding name?) was born and brought up in England by her German mum, Ute, and Greek dad, Costas. She has a fireman brother, also Costas, and she has a, rather lovely, birth name, Panayota Olymbios

I don’t know about you but, that makes me want to book a two week summer holiday in the Greek Islands! It definitely means we need to know more about Penny, her motivations, including her passion for art and its use as a creative therapy in the Wellbeing Centre.

“Our patients face real challenges with their various conditions and our job is to gently encourage activities which feed their spirit. It’s not about being a fantastic artist; we simply provide the materials to enable people to explore their own creativity.”

Art might involve painting or sculpting, drawing or fabric design. It could be a poem or song lyrics. What we absolutely know is, it genuinely helps the people who attend our Wellbeing Centre.

The ‘doing’ is the important thing. It is sometimes the ideal way for patients to ‘escape’, to be lost in the moment and to enjoy a period of relief. At other times people’s feelings are crystallised in their work and it can release emotions. In Wellbeing, Penny, her volunteer helpers and, of course, the clinical staff are close-by for the occasions that require a kind word or, when necessary, some more private conversations.Penny and Norma

Penny’s volunteer helpers, Norma (pictured with Penny), Mike (more of him later), Debbie and Jackie are experienced people who add invaluable support. Listening, nurturing and encouraging people, gently, are the essential characteristics needed to help with creative pastimes.

Wirral Hospice St John’s Wellbeing Centre is a place where people, with life limiting illnesses, are welcomed when they have been referred through their consultant’s, and/or GP’s and/or community nurse(s). People are still under the care of their GP’s but are assessed in our Outpatient’s (also sometimes Inpatients) department to agree a day in the week (Tuesday – Friday), over 8 weeks, when they can attend.

Penny’s inspiration for working in a caring environment stems from her mum who was a care worker in a nursing home. She worked with older people and would often take Penny who, as she reached her teenage years, began to build up a keen respect for people with various health needs. At the same time, at school, Penny was displaying a keen talent for art!

‘A Level Art’ was duly achieved and she had to make a choice, “Should I be a nurse or do art? Health or art? At 18, Penny chose art and went off to Norwich University to study Graphic Design and Illustration. Happily, for our patients, the combination of care and art is now fused in facilitating creative therapies here at the hospice.

Penny WorkAfter graduation, Penny worked at Chandos Records, a specialist company producing classical music records. As a senior graphic designer, her job involved organising photo-shoots, creating illustrations (from listening to the musical pieces) and final art direction for vinyl covers which sold all over the world. If you bought a record of Nigel Kennedy’s, the world famous violinist, in the 80’s the chances are Penny designed the cover!

Penny also experienced the caring work of hospices when a former colleague from Chandos, and a good friend, Mark, died at St Elizabeth Hospice, Ipswich, at only 39 years of age.

Eventually marriage brought Penny to Wirral and she has two boys (pictured with Penny), Daniel 21, who is studying German and Portuguese in Bristol, and Jonny 23 (fondly called ‘Mr Gadget’ by Penny) who works in Manchester for the growing digital content provider ‘Unilad’Penny and Boys

Nowadays Penny also volunteers for an organisation called Place2Be which works with schools to meet the needs of some (often vulnerable) children who don’t always thrive in the mainstream. It’s really inspiring work.

Penny GracieIn June Penny will have been at the hospice for six years. Until she worked here, and even now, Penny has been involved in voluntary work. She loves dogs and has been involved in ‘pat dogs’ for people with dementia (her own dog is Gracie, pictured on the left) . She’s been an Age UK befriender and was working at a café in Willaston when she met Wellbeing Centre volunteer, Mike Ring.

Mike introduced Penny to the hospice as a volunteer and, when a staff position became available, well, the rest is history. That’s not ancient Greek history mind, it’s modern history being made with a Greek, plus German and English, influence.

Thank you, Penny, you’re really making history!

Author: Billy Howard

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