Rugby is renowned for being one of the toughest sports with players showing opponents no mercy, but in Plymouth there’s a ladies’ team proving that when it comes to one of their own, they’re all heart – and they’re even losing their locks for charity to show how much they care. 

Teammates of Plymstock Albion Oaks RFC player Maria Ashurst braved a sponsored head shave at the club last Saturday 19 October in aid of our charity. We provided expert care for Maria’s husband Paul, helping to make his last days as dignified and comfortable as possible as we looked after him at Derriford Hospital and at then at home in St Budeaux before sadly, he passed away in September.

It was an emotional day for Maria, who has been part of the ladies team for over eight years. Bus driver of 17 years and snooker fan Paul was her biggest supporter, even encouraging her to meet up with teammates while he was ill, and – joined by St Luke’s Healthcare Assistant, Penny – she made the first snips to the hair of fellow players, Gail Randall and Paula Sims of Lower Ham, as they went under the razor.

The duo have already smashed their target of raising £1,000 to help us continue our vital service caring for terminally ill people across the community and supporting their families.

It was following Paul’s diagnosis of cancer and admission to Derriford Hospital that our specialist team there cared for him, managing his symptoms, relieving his pain and providing emotional support for him and his family. With the team’s help – which included the installation of a hospital bed at the couple’s house – Paul was then able to return home, where he wanted to be.

Maria and Paul between them have five children, 13 grandchildren and two step-great grandchildren, the youngest of whom was born just three days before Paul died.

Maria said: “Paul was a wonderful man, who lived with several health conditions and was open about his mental health difficulties because he knew talking about it would help others. He was a huge Elvis fan and the way he sang his songs would make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

“Seeing him so ill was very hard, but I can’t thank St Luke’s enough for making it possible for him to be at home with me so I could look after him. As well as making sure all the right equipment was in place, from the doctors and nurses to the physios and occupational therapists, they were there at our door or at the end of the phone whenever we needed them.

“The way they explained everything and how quickly they responded was really reassuring – in fact the Urgent Care team came out seven times in 24 hours. Quite simply, they were just ‘on it’ and I couldn’t be more grateful. They made a massive difference right when we needed them most.”

Both throughout Paul’s illness and since he died, Maria has been uplifted by the unwavering support of her teammates, whom she calls her ‘second family’.

Teammate Gail Randall said, “It’s a really big commitment to have your head shaved. I have been told it changes your appearance quite a lot and it takes two years for our hair to grow back to the same length.”

Overseeing the head shave was Lacey Keating from Chameleons hair salon in Plymstock, with the hair donated to the Little Princess Trust who provide real hair wigs to children and young people with hair loss, and funding vital research into childhood cancer.

Gail reflected on the day. “It has been very emotional for us, knowing how much St Luke’s helped Maria and Paul in their time in need, we couldn’t be more thankful.”

As well as the sponsored head shave, the club is honouring Paul with a memorial rugby match at 2pm on Sunday 24 November, when the ladies team will take on their opponents from Devizes in a league match.

Maria said: “The girls have been amazing – they’re always there and I can always pick up the phone to them when I need to have a rant or a cry. The wider club has fantastic too, and the memorial match for Paul will be very special. It’s a chance for friends and family to come because he did not want a funeral.

“I didn’t know the club had chosen to raise money for St Luke’s but I’m so glad they have because they’ve done so much for Paul, me and the rest of the family.”

You can still donate online via the Plymstock Albion Oaks Facebook page.

1,341 cyclists taking on mud, sweat and gears to clock up a combined 34,602 miles; 84 dedicated volunteers braving the elements – this is what it takes to raise vital funds to keep the wheels of local hospice care turning.

Bidders snap up a unique piece of art to be a part of something special that will leave a legacy for families across Plymouth and surrounding areas.

On the evening of 9 October, 40 of the enchanting elephant sculptures that have delighted tens of thousands this summer as part of Elmer’s Big Parade – each featuring a unique design by a talented artist – generated a staggering £323,750 for St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth. This is the equivalent of providing over 350 families with hospice care at home.

Led by professional auctioneer Paul Keen of Plymouth Auction Rooms, the star Elmer of the night, by Plymouth-based artist Brian Pollard was snapped up by the Miller family from Plymouth and finally went for a jaw-dropping £36,000.

Elmer – The Symphony of the Spirit – artist: Andy Jack Nash

Bought by Andy and Naomi Ibbs.

Andy’s retirement day from his position as Chief Executive of Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust coincided with the auction and he wanted to use some of his lump sum to help St Luke’s. He and Naomi, who is Chair of Governors at Woodlands School in Plymouth, wanted this particular Elmer as music is a very important part of their lives. Their Elmer is going on a journey to the South of France, where it will live in the little wood by their holiday home and be enjoyed by their grandchildren.

Naomi Ibbs said: “We are so aware that St Luke’s is needed by so many families and the difference the charity makes to them is priceless, so this was an amazing opportunity to show our support. We’re absolutely thrilled to have won the auction and can’t wait to see our grandchildren enjoying our Elmer when they visit us in France. It will be such fun seeing their faces!”

Elmer – Britain’s Ocean City – artist: Dave Smith

Bought by Darren Burt

Bought by Darren Burt of Plymouth, whose wife Tracy died suddenly in June this year, aged just 39. Tracy was mum to children Brittany, Dylan, Darcy and Cody, and had seen the Elmers and set her heart on this one, so Darren was determined to fulfil her wish.

Darren was at the auction with daughter Darcy, aged 7, who was the one raising her hand for the bid. Their auction number allocated was 5 – which happened to be Tracy’s lucky number! This was such a poignant night for Darren as he remembered Tracy. The Elmer will take pride of place in the front garden of the family home in Eggbuckland.

Darren said: “When Tracy died suddenly, I didn’t just lose my wife but my best friend, too. Living without her is really hard and we miss her so much every day.

“Being at the auction with Darcy tonight has been very emotional, but I wasn’t going to leave until I had won the Elmer Tracy set her heart from the moment she saw it in the summer. Winning the auction means so much, and our Elmer is going to take pride of place because my wife was such a special person.”

The charity spends £5.7million a year on patient care giving its service free of charge to those who need it at home, in hospital or at its specialist unit at Turnchapel. Funds generated at the auction will help ensure St Luke’s expert team is there to make a very challenging time that little bit easier by ensuring dignity for patients and making them as comfortable as possible while also providing emotional, spiritual and practical support for them and their loved ones.

Steve Statham, Chief Executive of St Luke’s said: “It has been wonderful seeing so many people following Elmer’s Big Parade, enjoying a free family day out. Along the way, they’ve been learning more about the importance of high-calibre bespoke care for people at end of life and the difference St Luke’s makes.

“We never forget that it’s the support from our community that enables our vital service to continue to make a difference. On the auction night you were behind us and stepped up to the mark to make us a force for good when patients and families need us most.

“I am truly humbled by your support and thank you on behalf of our staff, volunteers, patients and their families.

“Two years ago we set out with an aim to ensure this project delivered a special legacy for St Luke’s beyond the trail and our Grand Charity Auction. Elmer’s Big Parade has delivered beyond what we could have ever dreamed of.”

Elmer’s Big Parade Plymouth sponsored by Stagecoach South West, supported by Wild in Art, Andersen Press and PL1 Events.

Tina Favis of Salcombe was so loved that in every year since she sadly died in 2007, aged just 40, her family and friends have got on their bikes to fundraise for St Luke’s in celebration of her life.

The epic annual Ride for Tina is their way of thanking our team for the sensitive way they cared for this special lady and supported them throughout such a difficult time.

But that’s not all! It speaks volumes about Tina that even many people who never met her join in and go the distance too, including from Land’s End to John O’Groats! Together with Tina’s loved ones, they’ve raised a staggering total of over £115,000 for our vital service! We couldn’t be more grateful.

 

When most people hear the word ‘hospice’, they picture the doctors and nurses who look after people at end of life, and – while it’s right these experts are prized for all they do for those in their care – working behind the scenes is an army of other hardworking staff, plus dedicated volunteers and of course the generous supporters, equally essential to delivering such a vital service.

With this being annual Hospice Care Week (7 – 13 October)*, St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, which provides specialist care for people with terminal illness, is getting behind this year’s campaign theme, This is what it Takes, which celebrates the work of 200 hospices across the country who support and care for over 200,000 patients, carers and families every year.

Nationally, it takes 40,000 staff and more than 125,000 volunteers to provide this service, which most of us are likely to need one day. Locally, at St Luke’s, there are 300 staff from HR and Finance to Maintenance and Kitchen, supported by 900 volunteers, each one of them passionate about making a difference to those in the charity’s care and with their own personal reasons for working for Plymouth’s Employer of the Year*.

Hospice care is important and demanding, and those who give their time and skills to help provide it to the high standard for which St Luke’s is renowned go above and beyond daily to give patients and their families the care they deserve and need.

Among them is Tracey Chick, Cook at St Luke’s. While she enjoys creating delicious meals for patients, it is the interaction she has with them on the wards at the specialist unit at Turnchapel that gives her extra fulfilment.

Tracey said: “I love meeting our patients. Chatting with them you appreciate them as people rather than just seeing their condition. I take the time to find out about any special dietary requirements they have, such as avoiding lactose, as well as asking them about any particular treats they enjoy. It means I’m learning from them and its knowledge our team can use to help other patients in the future.

“I’m always glad that I’ve been able to connect with a patient, and it’s extra special when I’ve been able to surprise them by making something that triggers a happy memory for them. One lady mentioned she loved cherry and almond scones, so I made a batch for her. A month later, she died and it meant a lot to me that I’d been able to make that little bit of difference.

“When you work at St Luke’s, it’s not just a job. Little random acts of kindness happen on a daily basis and make it really special.”

As a compassionate organisation, St Luke’s recognises it is not just its clinical staff interacting with patients at end of life and feeling the inevitable toll this can sometimes take. People from all backgrounds are drawn to work for the charity because of their desire to make a difference, so there’s support in place to help look after their emotional well-being.

For experienced carpenter Kenny McDonagh, Maintenance Assistant, St Luke’s is world away from the grit and girders of the construction sites he has managed over the years. In a very different environment, he and his colleagues maintain the high standard of all St Luke’s facilities, including its 30-plus charity shops from Plymouth to Launceston and Kingsbridge.

Kenny said: “Since joining four years ago, my eyes have been opened to the difference St Luke’s makes to so many people. The variety of skills I’ve brought with me are really valued here, and in our team of staff and volunteers we can turn our hand to everything, from decorating and shop fit-outs to clearing blocked drains.

“The patients always come first so we are here to help things run smoothly every day, including over Christmas and New Year. While fixing a patient’s television might seem like a small thing, it’s rewarding to know we’ve played a part in helping them relax as much as possible while they’re receiving care. When a dear colleague was himself looked after by St Luke’s recently, it was comforting for me to know he was in the best of hands.”

This sentiment is echoed by Domestic Assistant Chris Smith, who’s been a familiar face at St Luke’s specialist unit at Turnchapel for nearly 20 years.

Chris said: “Working here so long, I’ve seen how St Luke’s has always moved with the times to ensure its facilities are keeping up with what patients need, and I’m proud to have a role in making sure everything is cleaned to the highest standards for them and everyone who works here or visits.

“When I’m cleaning the wards or gathering laundry, I’m more than happy to chat if a patient wants to – it doesn’t only brighten their day, but mine too. It’s lovely getting to know them and hard when they’ve gone, especially when it comes to clearing their room, but the lifelong friendships I’ve made with colleagues here mean there’s always someone to talk to. It’s  such a special place and there’s nowhere I would rather work.”

While hospice care is free for patients, it is not cheap, and in addition to the huge team effort of staff and volunteers, hospices in the UK rely on the public for two-thirds of the £1.4billion a year it costs to provide bespoke end of life care nationally.

For St Luke’s, last year £7.8million was raised by the caring community through donations and legacies, plus its retail outlets, lottery and events such as Tour de Moor and Men’s Day Out. It is only through the ongoing support of the community that the charity is able to continue giving its compassionate care to patients at home, in hospital and at its specialist unit.

Steve Statham, Chief Executive of St Luke’s, said: “We’re proud to support Hospice Care Week because it’s shining a light on just what it takes for hospices like St Luke’s to look after so many people who need us, and to such a high standard.

“Our charity would not be able to help as many people as we do, or as well as we do, without the many unsung staff and volunteers who work so tirelessly to help the families we come alongside. They do it because they’re passionate about making a difference, but we recognise they need support, too. It can be hard working in an environment where people are dying and that’s why we are committed to enhancing the well-being of all our workforce, which helps maintain resilience.

“We also know that without the ongoing support of our big-hearted community, our service simply could not continue. Their generosity is something we never take for granted and I want to say a huge thank you to them, too.”

Learn more about the varied roles at St Luke’s, www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/jobs

*Hospice Care week is the annual awareness-raising campaign run by national charity Hospice UK

**Plymouth Business Awards 2019