Giving great care and dignity for 25 years

WHEN HOSPICES first began to care for the sick in the eleventh and twelfth centuries they were mainly monasteries run by servants of God who took in weary travellers. And today they are still places of rest for those who pass through their doorways and ma

WHEN HOSPICES first began to care for the sick in the eleventh and twelfth centuries they were mainly monasteries run by servants of God who took in weary travellers.

And today they are still places of rest for those who pass through their doorways and many still bare the names of Saints, although, of course, all denominations are welcome.

Our local hospice, Saint Francis, in Havering-atte-Bower, has given end-of-life care to some of the borough's bravest residents, such as ex-soldier Barry Robinson and mum of three, Michelle O'Shaughnessy , who both died of cancer last year.

The charity is now in its 25th year and several celebrations are going on this month to mark the anniversary.

Saint Francis was registered as a charity in June 1978 and by 1981 �350,000 had been raised by public donation and fundraising efforts.

A 40-strong volunteer group, Friends of Saint Francis Hospice, consisting of generous people throughout Essex, made the hospice a reality.

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In May 1979, the Hall in Havering-atte-Bower was acquired as the perfect site to build a large hospice which would provide care for a large area of the county.

Building started in July 1982, with several additions made to the Hall to create patient rooms, a lounge, chapel, bathrooms, utility rooms and a kitchen, at a cost of �865,000.

The Hall itself was used to provide offices, staff rooms, an educational suite and, later, a base for the home care nursing team.

In July 1984, the hospice opened its doors to care for the terminally ill - they had 10 beds for people with advanced cancer.

Founder member of Saint Francis Hospice, Joan Matthews, said: "In 1975, a small group of dedicated people, motivated by their Christian faith, believed that there was a need for a hospice in the Borough of Havering.

"At first they organised fund-raising events and worked long and hard to achieve their aim.

"The area where the patients are now accommodated was purpose built, and the old house provides office space for those who work behind the scenes, and without whose work there would not be a hospice."

Joan is still heavily involved in the hospice she helped build and is currently a member of the Hospice Council of Management and Trustee of the Saint Francis Hospice Development Trust.

She added: "All who work at Saint Francis Hospice, and those who worked so hard to found it, are very conscious of the fact that it would not exist without the help of the many local people who raised the money for it to be built and refurbished.

"When it was the time to choose a name for the new hospice, therefore, it was felt right to ask the local people what they would like it to be called.

"Although Saint Francis is well known for his love of animals, it was his prayer that ends 'and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life' that was the inspiration for their choice.

"Saint Francis cared for all people regardless of their colour, race, creed or social standing and this makes him an ideal patron saint for the work of the hospice."

The first people to be cared for at the hospice entered the new building on July 23 1984.

By 1991 Saint Francis had outgrown the Hall and the bungalow next door was bought for an educational and conference centre.

Refurbishment was carried out and many volunteers helped to raise the cash the hospice needed to expand and care for more patients.

The Day Hospice, opened in March 1993, now cares for 85 people per week and the community palliative care team looks after about 170 people in their own homes.

Saint Francis' in-patient unit can accommodate up to 22 people and altogether, the hospice looks after 200 people at any one time.

The Hospice at Home service was started in May 2000. They work closely with the Community Palliative Care Team, district nurses and Macmillan nurses to provide comfort and relief for patients in their own homes.

It was set up to provide extra support for those in the last few weeks of life who have expressed a wish to die at home.

The generous donation to create this service came from the estate of Margaret Helene Markus, who had a special interest in the work of the hospice movement.

The Friends of Saint Francis Hospice is responsible for community fundraising and there are groups of fundraisers throughout Barking and Dagenham and Havering, who organise events all year round.

And there are also 16 Saint Francis Hospice Shops selling donated and second-hand goods for funds, staffed by volunteers.

Call 01708 753319 or 01708 376269 or email: for more information.

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