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

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April is Make A Will Month – do you have an up-to-date Will?

julia evans poster 2019 date removed“Hello, I’m Julia Evans, one of Wirral Hospice St John’s Fundraising Managers. I have worked at the Hospice for 17 years and look after our supporters who wish to make donations to our charity. It’s such a special place and a real privilege to be part of somewhere that plays such a crucial caring role in our local community.”

Making a legally valid Will is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that your loved ones are provided for when you are no longer around to look out for them.

Many people do not want to consider making a Will yet or think that they will get to it another time.

It can usually cost in the region of £150+ for a single Will and £250+ for a double Will. More complex estates, for example those involving several properties, savings accounts or business assets can take much longer to work on and can be more expensive.

Wills are legally-binding documents and although you can make Wills online cheaply and even for free, it is advisable to get professional support because even small errors could cause big problems for the future.

Wirral Hospice St John’s has formed partnerships with a number of local solicitors who are all willing to draw up Wills at their own expense throughout April. Click here to see a list of this year’s participants.

In exchange for their time, each solicitor  requests that individuals make a fair donation to the Hospice in return for this service, which is a suggested minimum donation of £80 for a single Will and £150 for a double Will. Every donation helps us to continue providing our services, free of charge to local patients and their loved ones.

Appointments need to be booked in advance with each of the participating solicitors. Slots will fill up very quickly; early booking is advised so as not to be disappointed!

In this country, if your wishes are not drawn up officially then legally your assets are at the mercy of the government, which could leave behind big problems for your loved ones that could take many years to sort out.

If you are a homeowner and have children it is even more important to have a Will in place. The law does not recognise unmarried couples either so if one of you dies suddenly without a Will, your partner could be left without anything.

Of course, you may already have a Will in place but if major changes have happened in your life, such as marriage, having children, divorce, death of a loved one, then it can make aspects or all of a current Will invalid.

Wirral Hospice St John’s provides specialist care and support to patients, their carers and families across Wirral. The Hospice’s care is free to our patients but costs more than £3.5million a year to run.

Legacies are a vital part of our fundraising and ensure that we can continue to be here to provide the best care for our patients and their loved ones at their time of most need.

It really varies what people have left us in their Wills and we are always so grateful for whatever people choose to donate to us however small they might think that gift is.

Please note that if you use one of the legal firms supporting our Make A Will Month there is absolutely no obligation at all to leave a gift in your Will to the Hospice in addition to making a donation towards the cost of the Will-writing service.

If you choose to do so though, it is at your discretion and the solicitor is not allowed to inform the Hospice or any other charity you might wish to support after your lifetime.

Please do not delay something as important as this; pick up the phone, make that appointment and know that you will be making a donation to your local Hospice in doing so.

To find out more information, please get in touch with Julia: 0151 343 0778 / juliae@wirralhospice.org or visit www.wirralhospice.org

Author: Julia Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Collins

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

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

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

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

We’re really glad to hear it, Bill.

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

Bill Collins 2

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

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

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

Here is Bill’s heartfelt poem:

Memories in Lights

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderful, Bill!

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

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

Bill Collins 80 Group

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Wendie Darlington – Happy to “do whatever’s needed” for Wirral Hospice St John’s for the past 31 years #hospicehero #volunteer #wirralhospice #care #loveandsupport #hospicecare

Wendie DWendie Darlington is a lady who gets things done! Her mum and dad were farmers and, growing up on a farm, there was no time for dallying. She volunteers in Wirral Hospice St John’s Inpatient Ward every Wednesday morning between 9 and 11am and the hospice is eternally grateful that she does.

In fact, Wendie’s been volunteering here for more than 30 years. In that time she’s got stuck into every voluntary job asked of her. She says, “As a volunteer I’m just here to help and I’ll do whatever’s needed, anything that gives time to the clinical staff and nurses to do their vital jobs.”

Nowadays it is making sure the patients’ morning coffees, teas and biscuits are delivered with a smile, and often a friendly chat. Water jugs are collected and refreshed, tout suite. Any other help the kitchen team requests is met with Wendie’s trademark ‘can do’ attitude.

In her early days at the hospice, Wendie engaged in a whole host of tasks; ironing, washing up, preparing snacks and teas, cleaning in the kitchen, on the ward and, in fact, whatever was needed.

Like all Wirral Hospice St John’s volunteers she is incredibly humble. She gives her volunteer partners the credit for the smooth running of all their ward duties. One week it is Ronnie (Veronica Wilkinson) and the next is Barbara Pearce. She praises them for their dedication and commitment to our patients and staff team, without any acknowledgement of her own personal contribution.

After their shift, Wendie really enjoys catching up with Ronnie and Barbara for a coffee and a chat in the hospice Hub Café. That’s where I meet her to have a cuppa and find out a bit more about what drives her to help make a difference.

The truth is, her story starts with family heartbreak. Her Dad, Wally Charlesworth, was the farmer at Grange Farm, Raby.  When he was diagnosed with throat cancer at the age of 55 it hit Wendie’s family hard. Her mum, Marjorie, who loved Wally deeply and hadn’t had a day apart from him since they were married in their early 20’s, could not acknowledge the illness, much less submit to the necessary changes it would bring to their daily lives.

Wendie, 29 at the time, stepped into the carer’s role. It is right, or should be, that such circumstances are described, and recognised, as ‘full-time’ work. However, life doesn’t work quite like that. It certainly didn’t 40 years ago! Wendie balanced caring for her Dad with managing the family haulage business with husband, John. While their children, twins Mandy and Sarah, then 11, and new baby, Phillipa, were all in need of their Mum’s time.

Wally was treated at the legendary ‘military huts’ on the site where the now famous Clatterbridge Cancer Centre now stands. His illness was managed by the hospital but his personal needs were taken care of by Wendie, with no other formal support, from home. Wirral Hospice St John’s had not been established.

Wendie’s dad eventually succumbed to his illness. Marjorie, her mum, never stopped grieving, but did live a long life, dedicated to her work, until the age of 87.

So around five years after her dad died, a friend and neighbour of Wendie was admitted to the relatively new, St John’s Hospice. After visiting she found it slightly difficult to explain to people that she actually felt happy for her friend. “She was so content, never in pain. At the hospice she was receiving the exact right care I wished I could have had for my Dad. I wanted to get involved straightaway”.

We’re really glad she did! Thirty years of voluntary service at the hospice followed.

But, that’s not the end of Wendie’s story. Not only does she volunteer here she also volunteers for our local children’s hospice, Claire House. Having experienced the specialist support at Wirral Hospice St John’s she was a massive enthusiast for younger people having such a service. Quite right!

After meeting with Claire’s parents, Christine and Bobby Cain, she determined to help them to raise funds to get started. (Wendie really does not go into any more detail with me about her role in getting Claire House established and I had to do some more personal research). In 2011 she was awarded an MBE for services to Charity. She has helped to raise many, many thousands of pounds.

Wendie 2

She won’t talk about it, so I don’t push her. All I will say is that when you read all of the press quotes at the time, she gives credit to the other volunteers, her husband and daughters who have helped with everything down the years.

Nowadays, as well as her volunteering work, Wendie meets any challenges, as you’d expect, head on! She is taking great joy in seeing her grandchildren, Jack 17, Molly 13, Maisie 10 and Sadie 7 growing up.

There is huge appreciation here for the hours and hours of time Wendie has dedicated to Wirral Hospice St Johns, a massive acknowledgement of her other charity work and we’ll look forward to seeing her every Wednesday, working, helping, chatting and smiling on our Inpatient Ward.

Wendie, all we can say honestly is, we really, really, appreciate you!

Author: Billy Howard

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