30 years of Friends
They have donated tens of thousands of hours of their time, serving thousands of dinners and cups of tea, with every penny raised in aid of Longfield hospice care charity.
Every one of the members of the Wotton Friends supporter group has a personal reason for being involved. Be it mother, friend or husband - each of them know firsthand the difference the charity makes to people’s lives in Gloucestershire.
Wotton Friends supporter group was launched 30 years ago to coincide with the founding of Longfield, then known as Cotswold Care Hospice. They started with a group of 15 women.
Since then they have raised £418,000 for Longfield, which supports people in Gloucestershire with life-limiting illnesses and their carers and families. Four of the founding members are still part of the group which is now aiming to hit the £500,000 mark in the next 12 months.
They are more than simply a group of volunteers. They have become dear friends who are always there for each other. “If one of us is poorly it’s like jungle drums, we all do what we can,” said Lesley Holland, one of the founding members.
That support was especially important for Lesley when her husband Paul became terminally ill. Longfield, the charity she had supported for all those years, provided hospice at home care so that Paul could do what he wished, to die at home. Wotton Friends were there to support her.
“Without the Longfield hospice at home team he wouldn’t have died with the dignity that he deserved. That support made such a difference to him and to me.”
It was the energy and determination of Jackie Sims which started Wotton Friends. “My mother died from breast cancer in May 1987 and on her death, her Macmillan nurse, Helen Hutchinson, asked if I would be willing to consider forming a support group for a dream she had, which was to provide a hospice for the then area of South Gloucestershire,” said Jackie.
“I felt driven to help. I went along
to a meeting in Stroud where I met the founding members: Barbara Curd, Bishop John Gibbs and Dr Andrew Boddamwhetham. I came away from that meeting full of enthusiasm, determined to form a group of supporters.”
Thanks to the support of volunteers like Wotton Friends, the charity has gone from strength to strength. Longfield supports more than 700 people every year. All of its services are provided free of charge.
Over the three decades there aren’t many fundraising events Wotton Friends haven’t tried their hand at. Fetes, barn dances, fashion shows, drama productions, a photographic exhibition, coffee mornings, stalls - they’ve done it all. Since May 1988 the group has served as waitresses at the Masonic Hall in Wotton-under-edge.
September to June they will work on at least 52 occasions. The planning of the rota, itself a mammoth task, is now done by ‘new girl’ and chairwoman Tricia Henderson-ross who has been a member of the group for 11 years. She became involved in the group after hearing about it through her husband, who is a member of one of the Wotton-based Masonic Lodges.
“As well as fundraising we are able to act as Longfield ambassadors,” said Tricia. “We are able to inform people of the great work carried out by the charity which is helping so many sick people in Gloucestershire.
“We have served at a number of wedding and other events with waitressing being the activity which has raised the most money over the years.
“All those years of waitressing for Masonic lodges has given the gentlemen a very friendly style of waitressing which they very much appreciate. We also help to keep them on the straight and narrow when it comes to dietary habits, we remember who is supposed to be low fat or sugar free!” Tricia added.
The group have never had falling-outs and, though they had differences of opinions, have always been close-knit. So what is the secret?
“For a group of women with quite strong characters there has never been an atmosphere or an argument,” said Irene. “We’ve always recognised why we are doing the work we do and it’s never a drudge.”
“The main thing is that we enjoy whatever we are doing,” says Jackie. “I often think now about what I started and I feel quite taken aback by the enormity of it all and how much we raised. Without the support of these ladies we wouldn’t have achieved any of it.”
Marilyn Mapstone, who joined the group in 2002 and was Chair 20052014, now lives in Australia but still keeps in touch with the Friends.
“I started volunteering many years ago at Longfield (then Cotswold Care Hospice), then joined Wotton Friends for a few years before becoming Chair due to Jackie’s ill health. It was with pride and trepidation as I took over from Jackie who had established the group and its following.
“It is the consistency of members and excellent local support which I feel are the reasons for the continued success and our belief in Longfield. Even though I am the other end of the world it is wonderful to be on Facebook and follow the events.”
Tricia also works as a volunteer in reception at Longfield’s centre in Minchinhampton. “I hear patients’ amazing stories which is the reason why I am so passionate about the charity.”
Wotton Friends now has 17 members with ages ranging from the 40s to 86. They are determined to crack that £500,000 target in their 30th year. They hope to be recruit new members so that the group carries on but most of them have no intention of retiring - just yet.
“Of course we are going to keep going,” said Lesley. “We reap what we sow.”
“The main thing is that we enjoy what we’re doing,” said Joan. “I see this as my contribution to the community that’s why I do it.”
‘If one of us is poorly it’s like jungle drums, we all do what we can’
The Wotton Friends of Longfield, gather for one of their monthly meeting, in the lounge of one of the Friends’ houses.
The Friends enjoying their monthly meeting.