A hospice is not the first place you would think of as being full of festive cheer at this time of year, but for South Devon’s Rowcroft Hospice, enabling families to share precious time together means filling each day with joyous festivities; carols, mince pies, Christmas trees and decorations.
Inpatient Unit Manager Sue Harvey explains: “Many of our patients are supported by our Community Teams to go home for Christmas, and spend this special time of year with their families, but for those who need 24 hour care and must stay on our Inpatient Unit – we bring Christmas to them.”
In the lead up to Christmas Day the Inpatient Unit’s corridors and rooms are filled with sparkling decorations, Christmas trees and the sound of carols, sung by local primary schools and Rowcroft’s own staff and volunteers.
One of the things which always raises an eyebrow - and a smile - with patients and their visitors is the arrival of a drinks trolley twice a day. Looking very much like a traditional tea trolley, this one is well-stocked with alcohol. The ethos at the hospice is if someone fancies a whisky or a gin and tonic before their dinner, why shouldn't they have it?
Staff and volunteers work tirelessly to ensure patients and their loved ones feel at home; the sound of glass bottles clinking as the trolley rolls along is just one of those you might be surprised to hear.
Sue added: “On Christmas Eve hospice staff, past and present, join together to sing carols on each ward by candlelight. On Christmas morning a small gift is left at the end of each bed and we cook a Christmas lunch for patients and a small number of close families.”
This year, patients who are well enough can enjoy their Christmas lunch in a new family room. The space has been created by Rowcroft Nurse Jessica Stein, along with a team of willing staff and volunteers, thanks to a generous donation from Helen Turner and her husband Russ, who was cared for at the hospice earlier this year.
Jessica explains: “We’ve created somewhere that patients and families can go to forget they’re in a hospice, somewhere they can treat like home. We’ve created a space with a bookshelf, kitchen area, lamps, sofas and bean bags. Hopefully this will make people feel at home enough to do whatever they want on Christmas Day, spending the day however they would have at home.”
Staff working on Christmas Day will be supported by a team of volunteers who have selflessly given up their time to ensure that those at the hospice have the best day possible. Con Godfrey, from Paignton, has been a volunteer at Rowcroft for nine years and will be welcoming people to the hospice on Christmas Day. He said: “I volunteer on Rowcroft’s Reception Desk two days a week year-round and also on Christmas Day. It’s nice to feel like I’ll be able to make the atmosphere for visitors a little more welcoming.”
All of Rowcroft’s staff and volunteers want the local community to know what a special place the hospice is at Christmas; a place of love and kindness where precious moments, both happy and sad, can be shared and cherished.
Sue added: “We try to make Christmas as special as possible for people who are here during this time. We encourage loved ones to spend the day with their relatives and if there is someone without visitors we’ll make a special effort to ensure they’re not alone.
“A lot of what we do is to try and take patients and families back to a happier time. It can mean tears but it can also be a positive, affirming experience.”
The last few months have been incredibly challenging for Rowcroft, since announcing the hospice was experiencing financial difficulty in July. Jon Hill, Acting CEO explains: “It is fair to say that this has been the toughest year in Rowcroft’s 34 year history, but we are incredibly lucky to have a wonderful team of staff and volunteers. Despite the challenges, this dedicated team are all committed to providing excellent care whilst remaining mindful of the fact that Christmas can be an incredibly emotional time for patients and families.”
Jon continued: “At the hospice we embrace this festive period and bring as much warmth and light to those spending Christmas with us as we can. One of the greatest gifts we can give is to bring friends and family together to share and celebrate this precious time together.
“Sadly though, we continue to face a funding shortfall and need your help to ensure that Christmas time at the hospice is a time of joy and laughter for many years to come. If you can, please consider donating £30, the amount needed to fund a bed for one hour on Rowcroft’s Inpatient Unit on Christmas Day.”
Please support Rowcroft’s Urgent Appeal by visiting www.rowcrofthospice.org.uk/appeal, thank you.