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.

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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.

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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

Spotlight On: Liz Munro a fundraising volunteer, ‘par excellence’ #hospicehero #wirralhospice #caring #fundraising #fun # volunteer #thankyou

liz

Wirral Hospice St John’s fundraising office is a hive of activity. There are constant phone-calls and a steady flow of people popping in to make donations, to join various events, sign up for the hospice lottery and drop off prizes (including contributions to our famous in-patients ward’s drinks trolley!) Very often, people from other teams and/or hospice trustees and ambassadors meet in fundraising to share ideas and news from around the place.

Our fundraisers are busy bees. They’re dedicated, driven and conscientious, but, they’ll all tell you, they wouldn’t be anywhere near as efficient without the help of a supportive and highly motivated group of volunteers, each bringing their unique personality, skill and experience to the team.

Today we focus on ‘one of the quiet ones’ (or so you would think) the invaluable and gently effective, Liz Munro.

Liz doesn’t make any fuss in the office. She’s there every Tuesday from 10am to 4pm, handling calls politely while, often simultaneously, packing envelopes, collating information, accepting card payments and sorting through all kinds of fundraising paraphernalia.

When she finds a minute she’ll also get all the teas and coffees in! This unassuming lady is an absolute diamond, the kind of person who, if you had a need she’d help you as much as she could.

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When I ask her to tell us how she got involved with the hospice and some of her ‘real life’, she’s typically humble: “I’ll tell you everything about me in about 5 minutes and you’ll have nothing to use.” I think she genuinely means it, but there’s plenty worth sharing.

Born and raised in Wirral, Liz attended Upton Hall FCJ before leaving for Durham University where she graduated in PE. Her first job was teaching PE at Helsby Grammar School before moving to Crewe Grammar where she spent a further 11 years. Liz is definitely a sports enthusiast – more about that later!

Her career continued in learning with the education advisory service and, based in nearby Ellesmere Port, Liz became an ‘Education Visitor’. This made learning accessible to people of all ages who might not have necessarily thrived in mainstream education. Liz’s commitment to community and public service has been a mainstay of her life.

Liz finally retired in 2004 when the primary school she was working at, Stanlaw Abbey, merged with another to become Oaks Primary School.

By that time she had already been volunteering at Wirral Hospice St John’s for 3 years. You see, her husband and the love of her life, Keith, had passed away at the hospice in 2001.

Liz tells me a little bit more about Keith. He was from Tain in Scotland (where they make the famous Glenmorangie Whisky). In the RAF he developed a love of languages and went on to study German and Russian at Edinburgh University. He was lecturing in Russian at the old Liverpool Polytechnic (now Liverpool John Moores University) when they met.

Liz positively beams when talking about her children and grandchildren. Keith and Liz were married in 1978 and Keith brought two children, Andrew and Jamie, to the relationship. Liz describes them, now in their 50’s, as just delightful! They have given Liz four of her, soon to be six, grandchildren. Soon to be?  Yes, Liz and Keith also have another daughter, Annie, who is mum of grandaughter, Ella, and now grandchild number six is due in March. Wonderful!

When speaking about Keith’s time in the hospice, he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, Liz remembers, “He was made to feel so comfortable. The staff and volunteers showed great courtesy, patience and were so attentive to his needs. Their kindness was priceless.”

She recalls a nice story when Keith wanted some peaches for his dessert, “Del Monté, mind” he requested. Naturally, the Man from Del Monté said, YES!

Keith died here in July 2001 at the age of 64.

Later that year, Liz began to volunteer for the hospice. Her first campaign contribution was for Light Up a Life in 2001. Liz would take home the hundreds of remembrance Christmas cards to be sorted and packed for posting to all the people who had made their invaluable donations.

In the next year Liz, with family, friends and neighbours hosted a ‘Titanic’ themed event to raise funds for the hospice. Guests were asked to dress for ‘steerage’ or ‘first class’. A gangplank was built up to the front of the house, adorned with lifebelts, a sailboat positioned next to an iceberg (a sheet draped over Annie’s old swing) in the garden.  A string quartet, featuring Annie, played until fireworks signified the ship going down at midnight. “People still talk about the day, it was Keith’s wish to hold it and we managed to raise a nice sum for the hospice.”

liz 7

Sporty Liz missed her games of tennis with Keith and, late in 2002, a friend encouraged her to have a go at golf. After just a few lessons she was hooked, “like some of my shots”, Liz laughs. Soon afterwards she joined, what was then, Wirral Ladies Golf Club in Oxton.

It wouldn’t be long before Liz became embroiled in life at the golf club. So much so that, by 2011, she was named the club’s Captain . What an honour! However, Liz broke many conventions in 2012 by being chosen for a further year. Historically, Liz was the very last ‘female only’ Captain of the golf club as, to comply with equality law, the club has had both a female and male captain since 2012.

Liz chose Wirral Hospice St John’s as her club’s charity of the year in both years as captain. The members insisting that she would have no problem gaining their support, “Wirral Hospice touches everyone here”, they told her. Again, very welcome funds were raised towards helping the hospice maintain our specialist palliative care and support services.

In 2018, Liz and her golf buddy, Janet Mills, made a personal donation to have the hospice featured on a sign on the 6th hole of their newly renamed Wirral Golf Club. 

Thank You, again and again and again. Liz, you are a Wirral Hospice St John’s volunteer, ‘par excellence.’liz 2

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Ann Dermody, a valiant volunteer at the heart of our Liscard shop #hospicehero #volunteer #wirralhospice #caring #wellbeing #fun #shopping #thankyou

Ann DWhen you meet somebody who has been volunteering in our charity shops for over 22 years, it goes without saying; they have made an immense contribution. One such person, Ann Dermody, Irish Ann as she’s known locally, is having none of it, “I’ve gotten more out of volunteering for the hospice than I’ve ever given back.”

Wow! Ann, we need to talk!

At Wirral Hospice St John’s our volunteers are engaged in all kinds of activities that help us achieve so much. If you asked people to tell you what our volunteers do they might say things like, delivering tea and other refreshments to patients, helping at hospice events, working on reception, stuffing envelopes, fundraising, facilitating meaningful activities with patients in our Wellbeing Centre and a whole range of other invaluable duties.

What is sometimes overlooked (not by us at the hospice) is that we have an army of volunteers based in our Wirral community. There are around 120 volunteers in our six charity shops in Heswall, West Kirby, Moreton, New Brighton, Liscard and Claughton.

Our volunteers are priceless. Whether it’s keeping shelves stocked, sorting through a mountain of donated items, hanging clothes, window dressing, serving customers and helping to bring in those vital funds so the hospice can deliver its essential palliative care and support services.

Nowadays, Ann volunteers at our newest shop at Liscard Way, Liscard, which has been open for around 16 months. (It’s next door to McDonald’s).  Ann migrated from our New Brighton shop where she worked for around 20 years.

I get to Liscard at 9am, the shop is already open and it’s already a hive of retail activity. Wallasey people are up early for a bargain and Ann is in the middle of helping a customer. At the end of their transaction the customer leaves with a cheery, “thank you, see you soon, Ann.” They all know her!

Eventually we get to sit down in the office at the back of the store and chat over a cuppa. Ann’s got some notes prepared and below is her ‘real-life’ story;

I was born in Ireland on March 5th, 1947. Both of my parents died very young. 6 months after my father died my mother died after giving birth to me. I was the youngest of 8 children.

In those days there was only the orphanage to go to, so the girls went in one and the boys in another.

Life felt cruel and hard, the nuns were harsh. No love was shown to anyone and we were not allowed to show love to each other. I never understood this. We never got a Christmas present. I left aged 16 and was given over to work on a farm.

A year later I went with a friend to London. London was so busy with all kinds of different people I’d never met or understood before. It wasn’t long before I moved to the relative calm of Wallasey to stay with my brother. Here I met my husband.

My blessing in life is that I have four wonderful children. Through them I learned what love is. I now have 8 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Although my husband and I divorced, I didn’t worry. I was strong, as long as I had my family, I was okay!

As my children grew up I had more time for myself. I went back to college and passed ‘A’ Level Maths, English and Sociology. I proved to myself that I wasn’t stupid, as the nun’s had said.

I’ve done voluntary work for around 30 years. Firstly, I volunteered for the charity, Shelter, and now 22 years for Wirral Hospice St John’s. I love doing it; every donation is a gift of kindness. Many people I know, who have donated goods, want to repay our wonderful nurses for the care they’ve given to someone they love.

The shops are here to make as much money as we can and, to borrow a famous saying, every little helps! People are also happy when they receive a bargain. I see love and kindness every day. I can’t think of a better way to spend my days because where else would you see this but in a charity shop.

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(Ann is pictured between fellow volunteers, Pam and Pat, and with Liscard Shop Manager, Mags (right)).

In her engaging Irish brogue, Ann compliments Mags, “I don’t call her that, I call her Margaret, it’s a beautiful name. She knows her business, she’s very focused and looks after us volunteers!”

I ask Ann about volunteering at the hospice itself and she says she has nothing but tremendous admiration for those who do, but it’s not where her experience most benefits us. She talks about the people who come into the shop, and other volunteer colleagues, who have had family experience of the hospice, her empathy for them and just how much that they want to help.

“I like people. It’s lovely to have people around and to help them sometimes. We owe it to every person who donates to get the best possible return for them and for the hospice.”

Ann, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We’re truly fortunate that you’re one of our hospice heroes.

Author: Billy Howard

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