This year’s Hospice Carol Concert took place on Friday 1 December at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. In her keynote speech, Hospice Chief Executive, Kate Heaps marked the hospice’s approaching 30th anniversary, our plans to build on our strong foundations, and how the richness of the hospice brand of hospitality has touched patients in community when they needed us.
Good Evening Everybody
Thank you so much for joining us this evening to celebrate Christmas at our Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice Annual Carol Concert.
Thank you to the Venerable Alistair Cutting, the girl guides, the ORNC staff, the Trinity Laban choir, our readers and our hospice staff and volunteers who have worked so hard to make this another successful and special event.
Next year marks the hospice’s 30th anniversary. As a charity, we’re proud of all that has been achieved in those three decades. By this I mean we’re proud to have supported so many people through such difficult times in their lives. Proud to have so many wonderful volunteers who selflessly give up their time to help others. Proud to have a team of nurses, doctors, allied health professionals, administrators, back office staff, fundraisers and retail staff, who work together to do all they can to make every person who comes under our care’s time more comfortable and give opportunities for them to create lasting memories with their friends, families and loved ones. And proud to be a beacon of light for those facing the end of their lives in their most uncertain of times.
I’m looking forward to celebrating our anniversary with you and the rest of our community over the coming year, and in particular to celebrating all the people who’ve contributed to making the hospice what it is today.
However, it’s about more than celebrations. It’s also an opportunity to think about our next 30 years. To consider what hospice care needs to look like in the future and what we’re going to do to make sure that we can provide it. We’re a community hospice, built and delivered by the community, for the community. Which means we have a duty to ensure that all people across the two boroughs we serve receive the support they need to live well until they die, and that all the care and support we provide feels as though it was designed with them in mind. We will continue to work hard to understand what’s important and to make sure we get it right for everyone who comes our way.
The word hospice comes from the Latin ‘hospitum’, meaning “guest house or hospitality” – this has always formed the basis of our principles – being hospitable, welcoming, open to the whole community. This is certainly what our hospice is, but it makes me think of what Christmas means for many of us too.
I like to think that if there’s someone that needs company or a full belly, my son and I will make space at the table for them. That’s meant I’ve hosted 20, but at other times just 3 or 4. Last year I was delighted to welcome a colleague of my son’s who was working Christmas Eve and Boxing Day and who couldn’t get home because it was too far. This year, we’ve got a lot going on at home, so I’m still not sure how many guests we’ll have, or indeed whether I’ll be a Great Auntie Kate Deliveroo service for my niece and nephew who have a very tiny baby boy currently in special care.
For some families, being hospitable at Christmas is simply about being together and following the normal ‘Christmas routine’. For this reason, and in line with any other time of the year, we always try to support as many people as possible to stay at home, so that Christmas is as normal as possible. This year we have the added benefit of our virtual ward team, who are able to provide more intensive support to people who traditionally might have been admitted to an inpatient setting, because their symptoms were more unstable and it is more difficult to stay at home.
But for those who can’t stay at home, because it’s got to hard, or perhaps they are no their own and want to spend their last Christmas in the company of others, we have our inpatient unit, opening up our ‘home’, to ensure you feel safe and cared for. And you can be sure, if you’re up to it, you’ll get a corking Christmas dinner from our Chef Raf and his team.
All of our inpatients receive a gift and our nurses dress up, last year as elves! Families are welcome and Christmas at the hospice can be magical – for those of you who have seen the hospice all lit up in the wintertime, I’m sure you will agree.
I’ve changed the names of the patients I’m going to tell you about.
I’ll call him Adam, is 97 with a huge smile and a twinkle in his eye! He is an avid animal lover and had all manner of animals growing up. As an adult, he trained budgies and canaries and sent them off to various competitions which on occasion won gold! For him, having pets around makes him feel happy, comfortable – ‘at home’. So when we had some therapy animals visit the hospice, Adam was smiling from ear to ear! He loved the puppy because it reminded him of the terrier puppy he used to have when he was a boy. ‘I loved that’ he told the staff. ‘That made my day’.
Our hospice brand of hospitality is also about supporting people to make choices, and helping them feel cared for and listened to;
He had been unwell for some time, but it was December when ‘James’ felt so poorly he told the nurses that he didn’t want to live anymore. Our nurses visited him every day to help him to get more comfortable, peaceful and to open up about his fears.
He told the team that it was so important for him to be at home when the time came – and the nurses ensured he got his wish. In order to achieve this, it was important that we were there for James’s wife too, she says: “I remember ringing them one time at 4am; they came at once and said ‘Don’t worry, we’re here to look after him. Have you had any sleep?’ And of course, I hadn’t – I’d been up with him all night. It was such a relief having them there when we both needed them”.
James loved Christmas, but sadly he didn’t make it to Christmas Day. To celebrate his life and love of Christmas, his Grandchildren chose a star which sits proudly on the top of the Christmas tree every year for the whole family to see.
Our hospice brand of hospitality is also sometimes about giving someone a home they can call their own so that they can live comfortably, safely and with dignity; Clarence, had been living with a lung condition for many years, but he became increasingly less well. He had no family nearby, his wife and children lived overseas and he had been sending money to support them.
Due to rising costs and having to reduce his hours at work, Clarence struggled with rent and was evicted from his flat. For 10 weeks, he moved from spare room to sofa relying on the good will of his friends. Clarence’s GP referred him to the hospice team and our social workers stepped in to help him find somewhere suitable to live. Our team helped Clarence to fill in the right forms, spoke to the council on his behalf and helped him to access the benefits he was entitled to, so that he could spend his last weeks of life in safe comfortable surroundings.
Clarence moved into temporary accommodation and our team helped his family to arrange travel so that they could visit and spend precious time together. The hospice team removed the stress, so that Clarence and his family could concentrate on making memories.
Hospitality for me is all about generosity, unconditionality, and belonging. These things are the things that we try to embody in our hospice care.
We want to be that neighbour who behaves as if they were expecting you, and just pulls up another chair when you turn up at their house unexpectedly and they already have a house full of guests.
We want to be that protective mother who makes sure everyone gets a turn in the terribly competitive family game.
We want to be the rich uncle who turns up with lavish gifts for everyone on the big day, expecting nothing in return. I wish I had one of them!
And we want to be the younger sibling who shows the socially awkward new girlfriend her Christmas presents, so that she feels included
If we can convey these feelings of welcome through our time, skill, compassion and empathy, then we will have succeeded.
So thank you, for helping us to do this through your generous support. We will make sure that every penny we spend contributes positively to delivering the best hospitality we can, for this Christmas and looking forward to the next 30 years.
Hospice Chief Executive