Hospice began with one woman’s vision…
THE Pilgrims hospices across east Kent are preparing to celebrate the day in June 1982 when Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother came to Kent to launch the start of the remarkable charity that cares for those with terminal illness. Mike Bennett speaks to the
IN DAYS past, a hospice was simply a place of rest for travellers and although now the modern hospice is still a sanctuary for peace and comfort, it is also a refuge for dealing with terminal illness.
At three centres of excellence in Ashford, Canterbury and Thanet, east Kent Pilgrims hospices have provided expert palliative care for thousands of patients over a quarter of a century. But many in the community still don’t realise that it is a charity rather than an NHS service.
It was one woman who provided the vision and determination to start and sustain the remarkable services.
As a district nurse based in rural Wingham in 1972, Ann Robertson was very aware of the problems of terminal illness.
In 1978 she called a meeting of 15 people she persuaded to share her dream and shortly afterwards was awarded a nursing prize that enabled her to spend three months researching terminal care, grief and bereavement.
Now 72, and recovering from complications following a hip operation, the founder and life president of the charity has produced a splendid updated complete history of the movement, that will be on sale at the official 25th anniversary celebrations next month.
Born in Surrey, her father was in the legal profession as managing clerk to barristers, but he gave it up to take the cloth and was ordained as a parish priest when she was 18.
When he became vicar of Wingham she had already trained in nursing and after a spell in maternity at the Kent and Canterbury hospital she became the district nurse.
It was in 1977, as she drove home from a study day at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham that she became fired with a passion to start the service.
Progress was slow at first but quoting the words of Dame Cicely Saunders, one of the pioneers of hospice work in Britain, she said: “Although faith can move mountains, it is quicker and more effective if we each pick up a shovel and physically help the process.”
That proved a major motivation. By the end of 1979, they had £48,000 and a massive appeal in 1980 saw them collecting £20,000 plus a month and able to purchase their first hospice site in Canterbury that opened in June 1982.
She said: “I am proud and humbled by what has been achieved, but I could not have done it alone without the support of those who followed and trusted me.”
Mrs Robertson served as chairman for 22 years and was awarded an OBE.
She added: “I had the dream, the ideas and the vision, but it was a team effort, just as it is now.”
Hospice founder Ann Robertson then and now