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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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.

liz 1

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.

Ann D 2

(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

Spotlight On: Assistant Practitioner, Ashley Quinn, building a firm foundation for the future #healthcare #hospicehero #wirralhospice #caring #wellbeing #fun #thankyou #lifelonglearning

“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Ashley 1If you’re in healthcare, and the first word somebody says, when asked, is that you’re “kind”, then you’re definitely in the right profession. True kindness is showing the same consideration, generosity and care for people that you do with your own close friends and family.

Ashley Quinn, our Assistant Practitioner, embodies kindness.

Mix that into 4 years all-round experience here; assisting within our Inpatient ward, being out-and-about with our Hospice at Home team and, nowadays, embedded in our Wellbeing Centre. Now, after successfully completing a foundation degree (fdSc) in health and social care, Ashley is building a future to the benefit of the people who access our hospice services.

We sat down with Ashley and asked her to share how she arrived at this point in her life and what her ambitions are.

She’s from Wallasey and went to secondary school at Weatherhead High. She confesses, she wasn’t ready for academic pursuits! At 16 she left school to go into hairdressing. She wanted to get straight into work and spent 5 happy years learning her trade.

Although she enjoyed her job immensely she was becoming increasingly inspired by her Mum, Kim, a district nurse in Wallasey. Ashley also particularly loved chatting to the older people whose hair she was doing and became interested in their stories, and their lives.

So, taking the plunge to combine care and the support of older people, Ashley joined Wirral based organisation, Professional Carers. Under contract to Wirral Borough Council and Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) they provide a number of services for people  including domiciliary home care, supported living, as well as short term assessment and re-enablement.

For people using the services, Ashley would carry out duties of personal care and safety, medication prompts, outings, dementia care and other sitting services. It was all great grounding for her future career at Wirral Hospice St John’s.

To our great fortune, four years ago, Ashley successfully applied for a job here as healthcare assistant and has been building all the skills necessary for her chosen vocation. She’s quick to say that she has the best teachers, all helping to consolidate her practise and knowledge.

The initial guidance provided by our Inpatient ward manager, Jill Littlewood,  and ‘lifetime achievement award’ winning nurse, Brenda Taylor in Outpatients (pictured here with Ashley), helped enormously in shaping Ashley’s experience.Ashley 3

Now Ashley is integral in our Wellbeing Centre, working with patients with a range of conditions and healthcare support needs. Helen Parkinson, our Clinical Services Manager, describes her as “amazing, a pivotal member of the team.”

She’s spent the last two years travelling to the Warrington Campus of the University of Chester to study for her foundation degree in health and social care. Of course, she passed with flying colours! It’s another milestone on her journey to a full nursing degree.

Jane and Ashley

In her ‘real life’, Ashley, lives with Richard, her partner of 9 years. After saving up for three years they bought their house in Wallasey and moved in, in 2017. Ashley’s dad, Dave, is a builder and has helped them with a complete refurbishment, including a brand new drive. The most recent addition to the family is Cavapoo, Poppy.

On the hospice, Ashley says, “I love working here, it’s so personally rewarding. I know we’re giving people the best possible care and, in the Wellbeing Centre, I see how much people respond to the support we deliver, how they improve and look forward to coming here.”

(Here’s Ashley, on the left, with her current mentor, Jane Slack, our acting Deputy Clinical Services Manager in Wellbeing, celebrating after hearing their academic results).

I ask various managers for their assessment of Ashley and their testimony is glowing; “I’m really proud of her,” “she’s full of integrity,” “she’s dedicated,” “genuine and reliable”, “Ashley is becoming an established oak from the little acorn who joined us.”

Keep growing Ashley, everyone involved with Wirral Hospice St John’s will be truly delighted!

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Norma Edwards, a vastly valuable volunteer in our Wellbeing Centre #hospicehero #volunteer #wirralhospice #caring #thankyou #wellbeing #fun #activities

Norma with SantaEvery Wednesday and Friday morning you will see Norma radiating positive energy in our Wellbeing Centre. She’ll be making people a cuppa, lending a friendly ear, giving her home-spun advice and helping to facilitate creative therapies with patients. She’s a lovely person. Someone you would trust with your most valuable possessions.

I asked her if we could share her story and she made a date to have a cuppa with me in Wirral Hospice St John’s Hub Café. I was planning to have a chat and jot down some notes to work from, but Norma comes prepared with a written account of her life and how it has led to volunteering. That certainly made my job easier (which I’m all for!) so, in (almost) her own words, here’s Norma’s story.

My life as a volunteer began in the early 1990’s. I’d promised myself around ten years earlier I would give something back as soon as I was able. You see, in 1984, when he was only nine years old, our son, Andy, underwent major surgery to remove a benign tumour within his spine. The fantastic skill of the surgeon, backed up with wonderful nursing care and Andy’s own quiet determination led to a remarkable recovery, exceeding everybody’s expectations.

We all persevered and Andy made up for lost time in his school work. As my husband, Reay, and I waved him off to University I found myself with time to spare.

I trained as a volunteer at, what is now, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, working two sessions a week on their Delamere Day Case Unit (which is dedicated to delivering chemotherapy to patients) getting to know patients and their families as they underwent, often several months of, treatment.

I had 11 very happy years there but, for a brief period, I myself had to rely on the great personal support of the staff and fellow volunteers on Delamere. I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma – a rare eye cancer. The treatment was a fairly strange and lonely experience. Five days of continuous plaque radiotherapy, in isolation. My professor was pioneering a more conservative treatment designed to minimise sight loss.

It was a new procedure with nothing guaranteed but I agreed to take the risk. I feel incredibly fortunate that it was a complete success. My tumour was dealt with and now, I visit the eye cancer research unit every year, twenty years on my sight is as good as anybody’s my age. Once again I felt incredibly fortunate.

As life got back to normal, working part time at a local pharmacy, volunteering and enjoying life there was no major drama for several years.

In 2007, Reay took early retirement and we were looking forward to a new beginning for us both. Fatefully, it was not to be. Reay was diagnosed with prostate cancer and after rallying following early treatment, he was admitted to Wirral Hospice St John’s.

What a wonderful place we knew we were in. Although Reay’s condition gradually worsened we experienced great care on every level. Nothing was too much trouble and the support that was extended to us all made us feel like we were home from home. Sadly, Reay’s illness was advanced and he died soon after.

In time I knew I wanted to get back into volunteering. I also wanted to repay the kindness, care and support I’d felt at the hospice. So I started working for a day a week on what was then called daycare. This grew into day therapy and is now the Wellbeing Centre where I work alongside Penny as an ‘activities volunteer.’ Two mornings a week I love getting involved in art therapy, group work and especially our card making.Norma 2

Reay was at Unilever for 30 years and outside of the hospice Norma is an active member of the company’s retirement group. Norma has a full life on top of what she does for the Hospice. Day trips, overnight breaks, theatre visits, lunches, other social events and holidays are all part of the fun. She also enjoys spending family time with Andy and daughter in law, Tracy, and also looks forward to spending time with her other relations in South Wales.

Norma

I ask Norma to conclude by telling us of her general thoughts of what she experiences at the hospice,

“The atmosphere is always, warm, welcoming, friendly and informal. The air is often punctuated with laughter with our patients. Some people may have an old fashioned idea of hospices and I just think, Wow! It’s not like that at all. It’s the kindness, isn’t it? There is a lot of ‘normality’, if you know what I mean. I love the banter that happens but also know when somebody just wants to talk and then it’s my job to listen, adding a kind word if I can. It is a pleasure to play a small part in it all.”

It’s no small part, Norma, and long may it continue.

Author: Billy Howard

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