OPINION: The North Devon Hospice has come so far

North Devon Gazette

Stood outside Barnstaple Tesco, my North Devon Hospice collection tin in hand, the warmth of people’s generosity was just about staving off the cold I felt on that blustery day.Â

A lady approached to put her coin in the tin but before she did, she said something unexpected: “You won’t remember me, but you’ll never know what a difference you made to my life.”Â

During 25 years as a nurse with North Devon Hospice, it was my privilege to be welcomed into the lives of countless local families, as they faced their toughest times. But I did remember this particular lady at Tesco. I remember supporting her and her husband, as he passed away from cancer some years before. I remember he was only in his 30s, and that they had a young family. All terribly tragic of course, but I was so proud to have made life better for this family during their most difficult time.Â

That is the difference hospice care can make, when someone is facing a life-limiting illness. It is not about putting days into your life, but putting life into your days. It’s about creating precious memories and leaving people with positive feelings during such dark times (feelings which clearly last).Â

As North Devon Hospice enters its 38th year of providing care and support for the community, it is my honour to look back and see how things have grown since I first joined the team - a team which I am still proud to be a member of today (albeit in a very different capacity).Â

I arrived in November 1989, just five years after the charity had begun caring for local people. I joined the hospice nurses Rosemary Booth, Ross Selwyn, Anne Belchamber and Dorothy Baker. Together, we were responsible for delivering hospice care to people right across North Devon. We would visit patients in their own homes and offer our expertise to help manage complex pain and symptoms, as well as offering emotional support to their families and friends.Â

Of course, back then there were no smartphones or sat-navs, so I’d take directions (even a grid reference if I could get it!) and use my Girl Guide intuition to locate even the most remote of homes in this beautifully sprawling rural area of ours.Â

Back then, the team was based in a small, terraced house on Vicarage Lawns in the centre of Barnstaple. There was one desk, one telephone and we felt like one close family. Volunteer drivers would bring patients to come and spend the day in what was our first ever Day Hospice lounge. Seeing how the care has grown in the years since fills me with an enormous sense of pride.Â

Our community team steadily grew, because the number of referrals we were getting consistently increased and we had to try and meet that demand. We also became something of a pioneer among hospices for championing alternative therapies to help provide relief for our patients. That is now standard practice across the country.Â

Throughout my nursing career at North Devon Hospice, I always felt the need to get involved in the fundraising, because without that we wouldn’t be able to care for our patients. I’ve done everything from shaking buckets and marshalling events, to abseiling down a cliff and jumping out of a plane. Since retiring in 2014 I have continued to be involved. I am honoured to be a trustee of the charity, using my experience to contribute to the decisions being made. I also volunteer at the hospice’s furniture centre in Barnstaple.Â

While I may not be providing hands-on care anymore, I know that my efforts contribute to the greater goal of North Devon Hospice. And everyone in the community should know that by supporting their local hospice they are helping local people, just like that lady who approached me at Tesco. You are helping to create a lasting feeling, which really does change people’s lives.