‘Ev­ery­body has a story to tell’

For­mer BBC news­reader Deb­bie Thrower tells why she swapped the high-pow­ered world of news to be­come a chap­lain for the older gen­er­a­tion

YOURS (UK) - - News - By Ca­role Richard­son

As she sat watch­ing a snail crawl across a win­dow in the mid­dle of the af­ter­noon, Deb­bie Thrower’s mind was thrown back to the life she’d just left. only months be­fore­hand, she’d been in the fast-paced world as a BBC broad­caster who in­ter­viewed fa­mous peo­ple on ra­dio and TV. Yet here she was, in her new role as the UK’s first Anna Chap­lain, chat­ting over a cuppa with the elderly res­i­dents of a shel­tered home in Al­ton, Hamp­shire. “How my life has changed!” she found her­self think­ing back then in 2010, when she ad­mits she was still miss­ing the de­mands of 24-hour news. “Then a voice came into my head…” re­calls Deb­bie. “Are th­ese peo­ple less im­por­tant than the celebri­ties that you used to in­ter­view?” it asked, and Deb­bie found her­self an­swer­ing, “of course they aren’t. ev­ery­body is im­por­tant, who­ever they are. ev­ery­body has a story to tell.” Seven years on, Deb­bie (now 59) be­lieves that more strongly than ever. For af­ter tak­ing that mo­ment to “re­cal­i­brate” her­self watch­ing the snail, she moved on with the dif­fer­ent ca­reer task ahead of her – en­cour­ag­ing spiritual growth for peo­ple in later life as an Anna Chap­lain. The com­mu­nity-based ec­u­meni­cal chap­laincy ser­vice is for older peo­ple of strong, lit­tle or no faith aimed at af­firm­ing those in later life, while not un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties as­so­ci­ated with grow­ing older. Al­though it was a de­par­ture from the jour­nal­is­tic ca­reer she was des­tined to fol­low from be­ing a child, she al­ready had the spiritual cre­den­tials. Born in Kenya, she’d re­turned to the UK by the age of ten to at­tend a methodist board­ing school in Devon, which is where the “foun­da­tion stones” of her Chris­tian faith started. Af­ter univer­sity, she trained as a lo­cal news­pa­per jour­nal­ist be­fore mov­ing into broadcasting, where she read the na­tional BBC one, Six and nine o’Clock news, pre­sented

Songs of Praise and hosted her own af­ter­noon BBC Ra­dio 2 show, suc­ceed­ing Glo­ria Hun­ni­ford. De­spite “laps­ing a bit” in her 20s, Deb­bie’s faith re­turned af­ter be­com­ing mum to daugh­ter Bry­ony and son Sam, who are now in their 20s. While still work­ing full-time in tele­vi­sion, she be­came a li­censed lay min­is­ter. But it was see­ing her own par­ents, Peter and Pamela, face the chal­lenges of age­ing that she had the epiphany mo­ment lead­ing her to the work she does now. Her father be­came a carer

for her arthritic mother and buck­led under the strain. Af­ter de­vel­op­ing can­cer, he died first. Pamela fol­lowed him two years later. Both were in their 80s and, for the last two years of their lives, had lived in a care home near Deb­bie’s Hamp­shire home. “I could see them be­com­ing more de­pen­dent on their faith and, by watch­ing them cope, it dawned on me that it was a spir­i­tu­ally fer­tile pe­riod of our lives. Through suf­fer­ing and the chal­lenges we over­come, we grow spir­i­tu­ally.” Close to the end of her life, Pamela was read­ing a prayer book in­stead of one of her usual nov­els. “Only the Psalms cut it now,” she told Deb­bie. The poignancy wasn’t lost on her and she thought of her par­ents when she saw an ad­vert for a Chap­lain to Older Peo­ple in Al­ton, ten miles from her home. Af­ter think­ing it was what her par­ents could have done with, she de­cided she’d love to do the job her­self. Deb­bie, who was ap­pointed to the post in Jan­uary 2010, be­lieves it’s tougher to grow old today than it was for pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, as we’re liv­ing longer in a more in­su­lar age and can be lone­lier. Call­ing on her jour­nal­is­tic skills as well as her Chris­tian faith, she de­vel­oped the blue­print for the ser­vice which is avail­able in parts of the North, Mid­lands and Wales. In 2014, she was ap­pointed team leader for the Bi­ble Read­ing Fel­low­ship char­ity’s The Gift of Years ini­tia­tive, which in­cludes Anna Chap­laincy. “All of us have a sense of what a hos­pi­tal or a school chap­lain does, but this is very dif­fer­ent. It is about be­ing vis­i­ble in the com­mu­nity,” Deb­bie ex­plains. Named af­ter Anna, the Bib­li­cal widow who ap­pears with Simeon, the chap­laincy takes a unique ap­proach to help­ing peo­ple nav­i­gate the choppy wa­ters of

‘Be­ing with older peo­ple has made me re­alise that by the time we get to that stage, our masks have come off’

grow­ing old. En­cour­aged to tell the sto­ries that have shaped their lives, older peo­ple can then ex­plore the past and the fu­ture to make sense of their iden­ti­ties and dis­cuss any of life’s big ques­tions that may be trou­bling them. Rel­a­tives and car­ers can also ben­e­fit from the ser­vice. “Be­ing with older peo­ple has made me re­alise that by the time we get to that stage, our masks have come off. The com­mu­ni­ca­tion you have in later stages is more au­then­tic, more hon­est.” With so much of the Anna Chap­laincy work be­ing about story telling, Deb­bie’s job – apart from the set change from stu­dio to com­mu­nity – is not en­tirely dis­sim­i­lar. But does she miss the glam­our of her pre­vi­ous life? “There’s not a lot of glam­our!“she laughs. “It’s an in­dus­try where you need a lot of stamina. They were 30 great years, but I don’t miss them.” She has no re­grets about choosing a jour­nal­is­tic path, though. “No ex­pe­ri­ence is ever wasted. Some­times it can just be prepar­ing us for the next stage,” she says.

Deb­bie in her news­reader days and as she is in her present role

Deb­bie en­joys a chat with Jessie ham­mond, who has sadly since passed away

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