Today’s celebration is all about people like Mary Willey. At 99-years-old, Mary is one of Rotherham’s Hospice’s longest-running supporters.
The Rawmarsh lady joined the fight to launch a hospice in the town in 1988, along with close friend Hetty Foster, of Kimberworth Park. Together they, and a small team of fellow fundraisers, hosted regular coffee mornings, bring-and-buy sales, jumble sales, dances, and spent hours knitting and sewing items to sell or raffle off.
Today, as they sit in the grounds of the hospice they helped to build - surrounded by hundreds of volunteers and fundraisers just like them - the two women are rightfully proud.
“We weren’t exactly spring chickens when we started 28 years ago,” laughs Hetty, aged 89, whose own 80th birthday party was a fundraiser for the hospice.
“It meant a lot to us to support something so close to home, something we could see build up with our own eyes. It’s been wonderful to come back today and see how things developed.”
Mary adds: “We’re the only two left now, from our little fundraising team. One of our ladies, Iris Cotterill, died here, in the hospice she helped to create.”
There’s a common misconception that it must be sad, but there is a lot of peace and humour here, and plenty of wonderful peopleVal Badger
The lawn of the hospice, on Broom Road, is filled with staff and volunteers who’ve gathered to mark its 20th birthday. It’s something that means a lot to everybody gathered; the building that started life as the dream of a small group of townspeople, keen to make a place where people could spend their final days in dignity.
“This isn’t a sad place,” says Val Badger, of Todwick, who has been volunteering since the hospice finally opened its doors in 1996.
“There’s a common misconception that it must be, but there is a lot of peace and humour here, and plenty of wonderful people.”
And Val isn’t the only person who thinks so.
“People are always surprised when I tell them what a happy place this is,” agrees Cynthia Henry, of Wickersley, who has also been a volunteer for 20 years.
“There’s so much care, among the staff and volunteers, for everyone who comes through the door.”
Fellow volunteer Carol Neale, another 20-year volunteer, of Moorgate, adds: “I find particularly in the day unit, everyone has such fun together,”
And yet, behind almost volunteer, is a name, a person missing from their life - their personal inspiration for supporting a hospice that helps hundreds of families every year. For Val, it is her parents, who both died of cancer without a hospice to turn to; for Cynthia it is her husband; for Carol, two of her closest friends.
Karen Raistrick lost her mum Betty to cancer just five weeks ago.
“Coming to the hospice was the best thing my mum did,” says the 53-year-old.
“She’d been in so much pain at home and, within 48 hours of coming through the door, she was pain free. It was such a blessing.”
Karen has baked scores of cakes for today’s celebration, explaining she was keen to show her support for an organisation that saw her through one of the toughest times of her life.
“Mum was here two-and-a-half weeks before she died and this place embraced us,” she says. “I was by her side the whole time, and the staff made sure I never went without anything.
“This place isn’t just about the patients, it has so much care for the whole family, and when I heard about the 20th birthday celebrations, I wanted to give just a little something back.”
At a table right in the middle of the celebrations, with a constant wave of visitors, are two familiar faces - Sue Murton and Kath Potts. Sue and Kath are two of the founding members of staff who helped the hospice limp away from the start-line 22 years ago, when it opened at its initial temporary base in Wensley Court. Both have long-since retired but say they are delighted to have this chance to see how far the hospice has come.
“It’s grown so much,” says Kath, former hospice matron, shaking her head. I’m amazed at what it’s become, with the new homecare service and children’s bereavement service..”
Former hospice administrator Sue, who says the hospice is still Rotherham’s best kept secret, adds: “Rotherham is not an affluent area - yet look what the people of this town joined forces to create.
“The hospice works hard for every penny it gets and I hope this town will support it.”
* Rotherham Hospice’s inpatient unit - which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week - admitted around 34 new patients a month last year, for management of symptoms of end of life care. 40 per cent of these patients were treated and discharged within 2-3 weeks, with appropriate ongoing care.
* Over 157 staff and 400 volunteers currently work for the hospice.
* Since the centre launched 20 years ago, the hospice has received the support of more than 1,000 volunteers, who have given a total of 466,633 unpaid hours, the equivalent of 19,433 days.
* Last year, 1,590 patients were referred to the hospice - a new record.