BLOG: Pink parade makes memories and miles matter for hospice care

A vibrant parade of a thousand warm-hearted walkers strode through the city on Friday night (7 July), sharing cherished memories of much-missed friends and family members, and raising vital funds for St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth.

Midnight Walk entrants of all ages and abilities gathered at Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park stadium as twilight fell, ready to pound the pavements along the charity’s choice of three-mile, six-mile, and 13.1-mile routes.

On the backs of their official bright pink T-shirts, walkers had written the names of lost loved ones they would be thinking about during the evening, many of whom had received care from St Luke’s teams at the end of their lives.

Many jazzed up their outfits with glow in the dark make-up, colourful net skirts, flashing bunny ears, boas, garlands and headdresses, and a lively musical warm-up led by Plymouth based fitness class Cheezifit adding a fun festival atmosphere to the tender, uplifting annual event, sponsored this year by Michael Spiers and Marchand Petit.

All walkers marched up Outland Road on the first leg to Manadon roundabout, passing walkers’ poignant memories on this year’s new Reflection Mile. Some turned around here, retracing their steps to complete the shortest, most family-friendly route, while others continued up to Derriford before doubling back to complete the six-mile challenge.

With a circular route, equivalent to half marathon distance, added to the mix for the first time, this most demanding route saw the hardiest of Midnight Walkers continue via Eggbuckland to Marsh Mills, along the Embankment and through the city centre, before returning triumphant to Home Park.

For some it was a family affair with two or three generations journeying together. Alex Baggott from Plymouth was walking with daughters Hannah Baggott and Charlotte Bennett, in memory of her husband Ian. A former police officer with Devon and Cornwall Constabulary and super fit marathon runner, Ian developed a rare and incurable lung disease and sadly died in April this year.

His wife and daughters wanted to show their appreciation for the care he received from St Luke’s at home team by taking part in Midnight Walk. Before setting off on the 13.1-mile route, Alex and her girls were delighted to meet up with Debbie Hutchinson, the St Luke’s specialist nurse who was there for Ian and the family when they needed it most.

“It isn’t until you actually need St Luke’s and use their services, that you understand how vital and special they are. With Debbie’s help we were able to look after Ian at home after his last stay in hospital,” said Alex, a nurse herself.

“She really couldn’t do enough for us. It was the most awful time of our lives, but we didn’t have to concern ourselves with anything other than caring for Ian.”

Lynne Shell, whose husband Pip was cared for at St Luke’s specialist unit at Turnchapel, before his death last year, was walking three miles with daughters Nicola and Helen, and granddaughters, Rosie, five, and Molly, eight, and on Friday had already raised £400 in sponsorship.

It was little Molly who spurred the family to take part. “Children at school were talking about fundraising for other charities. She came home and asked how she could raise money for St Luke’s. It’s fantastic for the girls to be part of this. They have been so excited seeing the amount on our Just giving page go up.”

Accepting their medals at the end of the three-mile walk were St Luke’s clinical nurse specialist Alex Chapman, her six-year-old daughter, Olivia, and her mum Jen Gibson, who used to be a community staff nurse at Torpoint, with a special interest in palliative care.

Jen said: “There is hardly a local family that hasn’t been touched by St Luke’s. It is such a fabulous resource for the area. Many times I have referred patients for advice. My special reason for taking part is that six weeks ago I discovered I had a leaky heart valve and couldn’t even walk 25 yards, but I’ve done all right tonight!”

Alex, who joined the hospice 18 months ago, and walked with colleagues last year, added: “It’s Mum’s most proud appointment for me, working for St Luke’s.”

Meanwhile, Olivia was enjoying her late night out, fuelled by popcorn and chocolate treats, and looking forward to telling her classmates at Cornwood School all about her Midnight Walk adventure with Mum and Nanna.

Chrome Alexander and his wife, Dee, Navy personnel from HMS Drake and HMS Raleigh, were remembering his father, Montgomery, who died from cancer 18 months ago at home on the Caribbean island of St Vincent, where palliative care is limited.

“We have a friend who works as a nurse for St Luke’s so we know it is a fantastic organisation and that’s why we decided to sign up for Midnight Walk. It is not just the people who are ill who are looked after, but their families too,” said Dee.

Chrome added: “I would have liked my dad to have had that support because it takes a lot of pressure off the family, but there was nothing like that available there.”

Emma Harrison walked 13.1 miles as one of a team from R T Fitness, a closeknit group of women inspired to support the important services St Luke’s provides. She was paying tribute to her late mum who was cared for at home by St Luke’s before her death from cancer aged just 58.

“When you are going through that with a family member you don’t know where to turn. You really need someone there who can understand and not judge. St Luke’s gave me comfort and I knew that in her last hours she was not suffering.

“She had worked for the NHS for the majority of her life and she didn’t want to die in hospital. She wanted to be at home in the house she was born in, with her family and friends.”

Head of Fundraising at St Luke’s, Penny Hannah, said: “It was incredibly humbling and heart-warming to see so many walkers out there on the streets of Plymouth, remembering their loved ones and feeling proud to be part of such a magical and bonding evening.

“I would like to thank every single walker for their compassion and kindness. We are also hugely grateful to our wonderful sponsors Michael Spiers and Marchand Petit, and to Plymouth Argyle as hosts of our event village. We couldn’t run Midnight Walk without their support.

“The money and awareness raised is so important for the future of St Luke’s as we continue to offer our specialist care and support, free of charge, to those who need us most, at home, in Derriford and in our specialist unit at Turnchapel. Thank you again to everyone involved.”