BLOG: Men on the move make miles matter for hospice care

Men on the move make miles matter for hospice care

A mass gathering of kind-hearted men strode through the streets of Plymouth at the weekend, paying tribute to lost loved ones, enjoying a unique camaraderie and showing their support for the charity that provides specialist end of life care for local families.

More than 2,000 men of all ages braved chilly temperatures and a persistent drizzle to turn out for St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth’s 2023 Men’s Day Out on Saturday (11 March). With most sporting distinctive event T-shirts, and some wearing eye-catching fancy-dress, they set off to walk a 12km (7.5 mile) route through the heart of the city, beginning and ending at the Plymouth Albion rugby ground at Devonport.

The thousands of pounds raised by the sold-out event will help St Luke’s continue its compassionate care, free of charge, for local people with terminal illness in their last months, weeks and days of life. As well as expert medical care, at home, at Derriford Hospital and at the charity’s own specialist inpatient unit at Turnchapel, the hospice teams provide valuable emotional and practical support for patients and their relatives and friends when they need it most.

St Luke’s patron Mark Ormrod, Royal Marines veteran, Invictus Games athlete and motivational speaker, was at the start line at Albion with his daughter to cheer the crowds on their way. “If I had my legs I would be out there with them,” said Mark, a triple amputee.

Amid all the fun, banter and companionship of the day, participants had the chance not only to share precious memories of friends and family members who have died, but also to talk frankly about the pain of losing a loved one to terminal illness and the realities of bereavement. It’s well recognised that men struggle to reach out for support and being together on the move offered a rare opportunity to speak freely with others who really understand.

It was a particularly poignant day for Martin Jones from Plymstock as he walked in memory of his wife, who died just five days earlier. Jen, 76, was a nurse who worked at St Luke’s from its very early days at Syrena House. The couple actually met at St Luke’s 35 years ago when Martin was a volunteer and Jen was working in the specialist unit at Turnchapel. In her final days she was cared for at home by the St Luke’s Urgent Care Service team.

“I can’t praise the girls from the hospice enough. I call them all angels in every respect,” said Martin, a retained firefighter, who is also a regular volunteer at the St Luke’s Plymstock Broadway shop. “I was Jen’s full-time carer and not only did they look after her, they looked after me as well. They brought me back from the brink.”

Martin has been taking part in Men’s Day Out since it started, on previous occasions in fancy dress costumes ranging from a crocodile to a Power Ranger, although that didn’t seem appropriate this time.

“Before my Jen died we talked about it and she was adamant that I should still do it this time no matter what happened. This morning I thought about not coming but I got myself up and out the door. It really is a brilliant day out,” said Martin, who was finding it comforting to talk to others along the route who had been in his situation. “I have spoken to a couple of men today who have told me to stick with it and the pain will get better over time.”

Four generations from one family were on the move to remember Shirley Roberts from Derriford, who died at St Luke’s Turnchapel specialist inpatient unit in January 2017. Her husband, Andy Roberts, her father Dave France from Saltash, and from Crownhill, her son Mark Green and his 13-year-old son Oliver were walking together in her honour, as well as in memory of John, Shirley’s stepdad.

“St Luke’s was a massive help to me when I lost my wife. Death is a taboo subject – it shouldn’t be, but it is and Men’s Day Out opens up conversations. Taking part you get to chat to people,” said Andy.

Sam Moore, 24, from Stoke was taking part in Men’s Day Out in memory of his Nanny Ann and Auntie Jackie, walking alongside his dad, his uncle and his brother. Acknowledging the power of togetherness during the event, he said: “The struggles you got through, everything is better as a team. It’s like a sigh of relief and such a weight off your shoulders to get it all out. And the fact St Luke’s is out there for everyone is brilliant.”

Martin Warran from Ford was taking part in memory of his wife, Lesley, walking with his grandson Jason Gee and a group of friends and family, all wearing bright striped umbrella hats. Lesley died last November, surrounded by her loved ones.

Martin said: “My wife wanted to pass away at home and we had St Luke’s coming in for about eight days.” “She was very comfortable with all of us around her,” added Jason, who appreciated the chance to walk and talk with others who have lost a loved one, while having a great day out. It’s a right good laugh, a bunch of lads getting together, and you know you are not the only person feeling it.”

Amid a host of volunteers helping to make the event possible, nurse Tracy Edwards from St Luke’s Urgent Care Service was out and about selling raffle tickets to boost the charity’s funds.

She said: “Men’s Day Out is about blokes coming together who are perhaps facing recent loss. There are a lot of men grieving and sometimes they don’t know how to deal with those emotions or express how they are hurting. While they are walking they feel they are doing something to represent the person who has died. “They get to be with other men and have that support. I feel proud to see them walking around the city in their St Luke’s T-shirts.”

Credit BBC Spotlight – 11 March 2023

Penny Hannah, St Luke’s Head of Fundraising, hailed the event a huge success. She said: “It’s incredibly heart-warming to see so many men put their best feet forward to support St Luke’s, especially in such cold and drizzly weather. I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who took part, to our sponsors Jem Scaffolding Ltd for their generous support, and to all the wonderful volunteers who gave their time to make sure the day ran smoothly.

“In previous years Men’s Day Out has raised enough to provide 160 families with a full package of care and support at home. This time it looks like we’re going to exceed that target, which is especially welcome at a time when we’re facing fast-rising costs.

“The kindness of our community never ceases to amaze me. It’s what has kept us going for more than 40 years, helping people with terminal illness make the most of every precious day, with the people who matter most to them. We couldn’t do it without you.”

Register your interest for Men’s Day Out 2024 here.