Spotlight On: Mr Richard Hughes, a patient in our Wellbeing Centre #wirralhospice #wellbeing #inspiration #therapy #patientcare #nursing #wirral #hospicehero #thankyou

Richard HughesRichard Hughes loves the atmosphere in the Wellbeing Centre at Wirral Hospice St John’s. He’s well up for a laugh and a joke. He’s got loads of great stories, which he’s more than happy to share with us.

He has the most infectious chuckle too, which makes it a real pleasure, as well as a privilege, to spend some time with him finding out about his ‘real life.’

He was born in 1940 in Paignton, Devon. His dad, Frank, was a waiter on, what is now fondly called, The English Riviera. Sadly, Richard’s mum died when he was only 15 months old. When his dad met and married a new lady, “a wonderful woman who brought me up, Marguerite”, he had no real recollection of his birth Mum, Eva.

In later life, Richard and his family have traced Eva’s resting place to the picturesque village of Collaton St Mary, in South Devon. They’ve had a memorial plaque sited there in her honour and revisit the spot as often as possible.

Richard spent most of his childhood growing up in Liverpool. (His dad had moved to work for Napier’s, later English Electric (now BAE), which manufactured aeroplane engines and motor cars but also made ammunition for WWII). Richard’s a keen sportsman loving football, cricket and also, notably, basketball. In 1954, Richard was in the Prince Rupert school team which won the All Liverpool school’s championship.

Richard met his wife, Pamela, by a massive coincidence, in Torquay, near, you guessed itPaignton in Devon! Richard was on a holiday with his cousin revisiting the area where he was born and Pamela was living with her family in this most beautiful part of England.

Richard and PamelaThey were soon courting and married in 1966, at St John the Baptist Church in Tuebrook, Liverpool. Now, more than fifty-two years later, Richard simply says of Pamela, “I just love her to bits”. (Here’s Richard and Pamela pictured on the right).

They’ve got three daughters, Maria, Julie and Jennifer, and seven wonderful grandchildren, “The Magnificent Seven,” Richard warmly exclaims.

In his early career Richard, who left school at 15, worked as a cocktail bar tender at the old Strand Hotel in Liverpool. He tells a story about the time he prepared the punch for a very wealthy Liverpool family’s wedding. Mixing a cocktail of red wine, white wine, gin, other spirits and lots of fruit juice. The punch was literally flowing! So much so that he was asked by the family for his recipe. Richard laughs, “Blowed if I could remember what I put in it! If they’re still using the recipe I gave them, it definitely isn’t the one I used!”

The growing family moved out to North Wales, first to Queensferry and then onto Colwyn Bay  (it had been recommended that they move nearer to the sea for middle daughter, Julie, who had severe asthma). They spent 30 happy, very busy, years there. The house in Colwyn Bay had eight bedrooms and, for six of those years, they ran a popular B&B. It must have been brilliant as Richard tells me of the Irish people who came to stay for one night and ended up staying for 3 weeks!

Richard would prepare breakfast, then go to work in the local supermarket, back to serve dinner and then off to work in the evenings in a local pub. Now, that’s a full schedule!!!

They all became entwined in life in North Wales. Richard is proud to have been invited, with Pamela, to the 25th anniversary of the investiture of Prince Charles, as Prince of Wales, in Caernarvon in 1994.

A back problem, leading to spinal fusion for Richard, saw a change in direction, workwise, for the family. Pamela went to teach at Llandrillo College and Richard returned to college to study! After achieving his British National Diploma (BND) in public services. He joined the North Wales police service as a civilian officer. He worked in traffic and then in the crime statistics department. As a steward in NALGO (now UNISON) he endeavoured to improve the lives of all the support staff.

Richard loved the camaraderie of the workplace. Organising various trips, with theatre visits, days out to other parts of Wales, stately homes in England, London excursions and even a vacation in New York. All in all, another twenty three happy years.

Richard H 5Richard and Pamela enjoyed rambling. (Richard is captured here in his full walking accoutrements). There are some beautiful places in North Wales, and around Wirral, where such passion for striding out can be indulged. It was while in the North Wales police that Richard organised a walk to celebrate the millennium. People from all the police forces in the UK were invited to take part and eventually, 275 hardy souls set off on the, circa, 25 miles from Clwyd Gate, near Ruthin, to the coastal town of Prestatyn.

It’s more than a challenging distance and ‘undulating’ to say the least. There were check points all along the way for food (tons of scones and Bara Brith), loads of crisps, first aid posts (with blisters at a premium) and gallons of water. Richard giggles when he recalls the phone call he received on the Monday following this first walk, “which idiot organised that?” and then, after a short pause, Richard answered “I did, and we’ll be doing it all again, every other year!”

He gives great credit to Pamela for all the organisation and support. “She’s the greatest administrator, EVER!” He says proudly.

With the first one under their belt subsequent years became more popular, with the £10 entry fee going to the British Red Cross. Other people would also raise money for their own charities. Rock and Roll nights added to the fun, following the walk, which became, ‘The Walk you’ve been waiting for, from Mountain to the Sea’.

After moving to Irby in Wirral in 2006, Richard and Pamela continued with their love of walking. He became Walks Secretary of the Heswall Midweek Ramblers and they’ve completed many charity walks, including Hadrian’s Wall and a Metropolitan Police organised event in Windsor Great Park.

Richard and Lesley

Richard is open about his illness. He’s been living with prostate cancer and has received various hospice services. He’s spent time in Inpatients for pain relief. He’s laughing as he says, “it was the best B&B and hotel I’ve ever stayed in, well, after mine and Pam’s in North Wales that is!”

His weekly visit to the Wellbeing Centre sees him enjoying, often instigating, the banter while taking part in all the other activities he likes. (Richard’s pictured on the right here with our Wellbeing nurse, Lesley.) From jigsaws, other pastimes, group and individual discussions, quizzes and ‘play your cards right’, to physio and other helpful strategies and therapies to help with managing his condition.

Outside of the hospice he loves visiting his “favourite city”, Liverpool. Trips to the Walker Art Gallery and the Museum of Liverpool Life, (where son in law, Simon, helped install the IT systems) are especially enjoyable.

Richard’s feeling for the hospice staff and volunteers goes beyond admiration, he has a genuine fondness for them. He looks forward to his weekly visit to the Wellbeing Centre, “They’re all, simply, brilliant”, he says. When I check with all those who see him every Tuesday, I can assure Richard that they all say… the feeling is mutual!

It really is, Richard, it really is!

Clwyd GateView from Clwyd Gate (Thanks to Sue Warwick for photo)

Author: Billy Howard

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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: 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: 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

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