With the current crisis meaning that sadly, more people are dying – and often more quickly – we’re extending the reach of our bereavement support service to anyone who has lost a loved one to COVID-19 or is anticipating this heartbreak.

As part of our city’s response to help individuals and families affected by loss due to the pandemic – and working in partnership with University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, Plymouth City Council, Livewell Southwest and our networks of Compassionate Friends – our charity has stepped up to co-ordinate support for both pre and post bereavement in Plymouth and surrounding areas.

We know how hard it is when someone close to you dies. We also know that COVID-19 has made loss even more complex for so many people. You might not have been able to visit your loved one in a care home or hospital, or perhaps you’ve had to make extraordinarily tough decisions on who could attend the funeral.

If you need help, there’s no need to wait – you don’t need a referral. Just pick up the phone and call our friendly, experienced and sensitive team on 01752 964200. Whatever you’re feeling, we will listen and support you. You are not alone.

We’re also here for health and social care teams, recognising the toll the pandemic is taking on those working in hospitals and care homes. You’ve been getting on, carrying on and keeping on – we’ll give you the space and support you need to reflect, de-brief, release some emotion and signpost you to the most appropriate support. After all, you’re humans, too.

Talented local Plymouth band SuperXLs have been supporting St Luke’s for the past 3 years, by showcasing their musical tribute to the late, great, David Bowie every January. To date the band has raised almost £2000 from those shows alone. The band is made up of five great local fundraising heroes called Ben, Mark, Leo, Jon and Phin.

On the 3 May, the SuperXLs premiered their isolation video to thank frontline workers fighting covid-19. The song titled ‘Heroes for Heroes’ has raised just under £2000 for St Luke’s, ensuring local families get the care and support that they need at end of life.

Mark Trewin from SuperXLs said, “We had to do something as a tribute to all the frontline heroes working so hard in our community during these challenging times” Mark continued “St Luke’s was the obvious choice to raise money for. One of the band members has a family member being currently cared for by the hospice, so it has a personal connection too and is even more meaningful to gift our time and raise much needed funds.”

The band are urging people to watch their video on YouTube and make a donation of support.

Penny Hannah, Head of Fundraising at St Luke’s, said “The video is best enjoyed with a drink in hand and the sound up loud, the emotional introduction had me and my family in tears, so much passion shared by the band. The words of the song are very powerful and thought provoking, and the images shared of our incredible nurses. I know the challenges our nurses and doctors are faced in these unprecedented times to care for over 300 families in and around our City, it really is heart touching.

“I would like to thank the band for their support and everyone who has donated to the JustGiving page and throughout the pandemic. We really need your support and we are so very grateful, thank you for caring.”

In the past few months, death has become a greater part of public life, with so many families sadly losing loved ones and with the media focus firmly on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But are we getting better at talking more openly about the ‘taboo’ subject of death or do we still hold back because although we’re comfortable with it, we fear others aren’t?

We’re firmly behind the national annual Dying Matters Awareness Week campaign (11 – 17 May) to encourage more honest talk about death, dying and grief, recognising that this helps those affected feel listened to and understood.

To mark this year’s campaign – Dying to be Heard – national charity Hospice UK has revealed new findings from Savanta ComRes that show that 72% of those bereaved in the last five years would rather friends and colleagues said the wrong thing than nothing at all, and 62% say that being happy to listen was one of the top three most useful things someone did after they were bereaved.

Meanwhile, a recent local survey carried out on behalf of St Luke’s, found that just 24% of those polled said they felt ‘very comfortable’ talking about death.

With many people facing the unexpected death of loved ones due to COVID-19, Hospice UK is calling for people to take courage and speak to people about death and bereavement to support those in our society who are dying or grieving.

Tracey Bleakley, CEO of Hospice UK, said “What these findings show is just how important it is for us all to talk about death and grief, particularly when as a nation we are facing higher numbers of unexpected deaths as a result of COVID-19. These issues sadly have a taboo about them, which is unhealthy and can leave people suffering in silence. We owe it to each other to take part in these conversations. So many people are dying to be heard, and we all need to listen.”

In an additional new poll from Opinium on the public’s reaction to COVID-19, while 71% of people agree with the lockdown restrictions, nearly half (48%) said that not being able to see someone before they died or attend a funeral would make it harder to accept the reality of the death. This poll also found that 62% said that not being able to see a dying person before they died would cause a lasting sadness, and one in six (59%) said that they would want a celebration of the person’s life after the lockdown is lifted.

In addition, the survey found that more than 11 million people – 1 in 5 UK adults – have put in place advanced care plans (ACPs) in case they fall ill because of COVID-19, or plan to do so.

As part of our service, we encourage people to create an ACP, a personal statement of wishes that can ensure – as far as is practically possible – that their wishes are respected and acted upon should they be too ill to speak up for themselves in their last days. Having an ACP can bring increased peace of mind not just for the person concerned but for the loved ones around them, too, making a very stressful time that little bit easier.

We also provide emotional, practical and spiritual support for those whose loved one had links to our service before they died.

Jutta Widlake, Head of Social Care at St Luke’s, said: “As a society, we don’t discuss death openly, and because people are living longer most of us don’t experience the loss of someone close to us until we’re well into midlife. Death is a normal part of life though, and we shouldn’t feel held back from talking about it because we fear others might feel uncomfortable if we do.

“As the national survey results show, silence isn’t always golden because most bereaved people welcome friends’ and colleagues’ efforts to help, even if those people are afraid of saying the wrong thing. So, taking that step to express your support – and being there to listen – are among the most important things you can do.”

You can pledge to take part in a conversation about dying, death or grief, either initiating it or taking part if someone else starts it. An online pledge wall and other ways for people to share their pledges can be found here.

For more information www.dyingmatters.org or www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/acp

This Thursday night, we’ll be clapping for these heroes in helmets!

A huge shout out to all the amazing volunteers behind South West Blood Bikes, a local charity which literally goes the extra mile delivering blood samples between organisations including UHP NHS Trust and St Luke’s, saving our own precious resources.

More than that, these big-hearted bikers who give their time for free have really stepped up during the current crisis, picking up prescriptions from pharmacies and delivering them to people isolating at home.

From one charity to another, we want to say we couldn’t be more grateful for the vital service they provide. When ‘normal’ life resumes, you’ll see them fundraising at all sorts of public events, so please dig deep to show your support!

Scott Medical College

Students of Scott Medical and Healthcare College are not only proving they’re as well motivated as ever despite lockdown, learning from home via lessons online, they’ve shown that when it comes to kindness they’re also top of the form, fundraising for local hospice care.

The specialist mainstream school for 13 to 19 year-olds, where students study towards careers in medicine and healthcare, chose to get behind our charity, recognising that now more than ever our charity needs support from the community to continue providing our vital service for local families. So, ditching their usual lockdown attire of casualwear, students from every year group dressed in their school uniforms for a ‘reverse mufti day’, raising £250 for St Luke’s in the process.

Being a partner of our Compassionate Schools initiative, which helps school staff better support students who are facing bereavement or have already lost someone close to them, the College was so determined to show its support that even the teachers dressed in school uniform to enter into the spirit of the occasion.

But that’s not all because during one online lesson, students received a special surprise when St Luke’s healthcare assistant Samm and nurse Theresa ‘gatecrashed’ to thank them for their support and take part in an online question and answer session, providing an insight into their work looking after terminally ill people who are dying. As part of the session, our specialist unit carers explained how they are coping with the changes brought about by the COVID-19.

St Luke’s healthcare assistant Samm said: “We are used to being there for our patients at a very difficult time so we are resilient, but it is hard not being able to hug them or hold their hand because it is second nature to us to show them that compassion. We still provide lots of reassurance for them though, and we’re doing lots to help them keep in touch with their families, recognising how very hard it is for them not to be together at this time.”

Headteacher of Scott Medical and Healthcare College Martyn Cox said: “As a specialist school, we place great emphasis on equipping our students with the vocational skills they need for exciting careers in healthcare, so it was hugely valuable to them to hear from the St Luke’s nurses about the challenges – and rewards – of working in hospice care.“I’m very proud of the way our students and staff embraced the idea of the reverse mufti day to show their support for the service St Luke’s provides, which we should never take for granted.”

Penny Hannah, Head of Fundraising at St Luke’s, said: “It’s heart-warming that these students preparing for their careers and adult lives have made such an effort to show people who are at the end of their lives that they haven’t been forgotten. We’re very grateful for their fantastic fundraising, which will help us be there for more local families who need us.”

Learn more about becoming a compassionate school to better support bereaved students.

Small in number yet dynamic and consistently compassionate in the face of unprecedented pressure, the St Luke’s team at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) is making a vital contribution to the hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Doug Hooper, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, is part of our team there, which also includes team leader Martin Thomas, nurses James Mills, Linzie Collins, Julie Ayres, Julia Pugh, Becky Harris, Julie Thesinger and Dr Hannah Gregson and Dr Roger Smith, and their Clinical Admin colleagues Jenny Francis and Jenny Brooks. Here, Doug shares how he and his colleagues have rallied, helping to fortify the frontline during this time of crisis.

“Ordinarily, we’re involved in looking after up to 40 patients at any one time, working alongside the hospital doctors and nurses across the wards so that people with terminal illness receive the highest calibre care as they near the end of their lives. We’re also here for their families, providing much-needed emotional support.

“Given the tremendous gravity of the COVID-19 situation and the huge additional pressure it’s putting on the NHS, we’ve naturally pulled out all the stops to adapt what we do really quickly so that the hospital is as well prepared as possible to manage the influx of people admitted with complications from the virus.

“Now several weeks in, UHP is relatively quiet due to much of the non-urgent inpatient and outpatient care being postponed, but the situation can change by the hour. There are ‘red wards’ dedicated to people struggling with COVID-19 symptoms and sadly, some of them have died. That’s why our team is embedded on these wards, supporting the doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants so that they have a better understanding of each individual patient’s needs.

“Crucially, we’re providing emotional support for the hospital staff who need us, some of whom are relatively inexperienced nurses. Understandably, the enormity of the situation can take a toll on them so we are there to listen and help however we can.

“With both patients and their relatives in mind we’ve helped the hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service access iPads for each ward so that families can keep in touch. While it’s heart-breaking that people can’t usually visit their loved one due to current restrictions, it’s really moving to see how Zoom and social media have helped bring people together so powerfully at such a challenging time. These human connections are vital to the relief of suffering.

“We’ve also worked closely with the hospital communications team and Annie Charles from the Mustard Tree Cancer Macmillan Support Centre so that family can be offered more in-depth support and be able to send uplifting personalised messages to their loved ones.

“When it is clear that a patient is not going to survive COVID-19, doctors and nurses need to have brave, honest and realistic but kind conversations with families. This is far from easy even when you have worked in end of life care for years, but the pandemic means some staff are facing this for the first time, having to break the hardest of news to those who can’t be there to hold their loved one’s hand.

“We’ve used our experience to produce advice packs for staff to help them feel better prepared to have these conversations with truth and clarity but gentleness and kindness, too.

“Part of relieving pressure on the NHS is the private sector lending its support, so our team has been busy providing specialist training to those working at the Nuffield Health Plymouth Hospital as the organisation is lending its facility and workforce to UHP by temporarily providing both inpatient and outpatient cancer treatment. It’s heartening to see them getting behind the NHS like this in the interest of public health.

“In the toughest of circumstances so many positive changes have been made, and I hope many of them will continue to benefit healthcare in the future. Our team will remain agile as this situation unfolds, working shoulder to shoulder with our NHS colleagues to meet the challenge. And I know we’ll continue to support each other – the camaraderie between us is second to none.”

Learn more about St Luke’s at Derriford.


Among our amazing volunteers giving their time and skills unpaid to help our charity is a special lady who has stepped up from one shift a week to five in these extraordinary times.

On a ‘normal’ Thursday, Linda Morris is a friendly face at our airy Driftwood Café at Turnchapel, where she serves meals, snacks and drinks to visitors and staff with a warm smile. It’s a role she has grown to love since she began volunteering with us after her beloved husband Brian died and following retirement from her long career in procurement at the University of Plymouth.

Now though, with the pandemic meaning that sadly, she can’t visit her mother or sister – who are both living in separate care homes – Linda is kindly using her free time to make even more of a difference. With the café currently closed and visiting patients restricted due to safety precautions, she is putting the experience she has already gained at St Luke’s to good use, helping her Catering colleagues by serving food and drinks to our patients on the wards at the specialist unit.

Linda said: “Usually, I visit mum in her care home every day and my sister two or three times a week, but the impact of the pandemic means a lot more spare time. It is hard not being able to see them, but I didn’t hesitate to up my hours at Turnchapel because I know the difference an extra pair of hands can make.

“It’s very much a two-way thing because, living alone, my St Luke’s family means a lot to me. So yes, I give but I also gain. The unit is such an uplifting place and I love being there with other volunteers and chatting with the nurses.”

During her shifts, Linda is busy making teas and coffees for our patients and serving their meals so she wears the necessary PPE, including facemask. She said: “I’m used to helping out, serving drinks on the ward as part of my usual shift, and I always say hello to the patients and let them know by my smile that I care. Now though, my mask means they can no longer see me smiling, so I try to spend a little longer with them, chatting and having a bit of friendly banter. We even laugh together when they can see my goggles steaming up!

“I relate to some of what they’re going through being separated from family at the moment, and if I can show them I care, I feel I’ve made a difference.”

Catering Manager Lesley Henderson said: “Without our volunteers we would struggle to run our catering so well even in ordinary times and now, their support is more appreciated than ever. Linda is so helpful and positive, going way above and beyond with all these extra shifts, and I couldn’t be prouder that she’s part of our team.”

A big thank you to Linda, as well as all our other kind-hearted volunteers. Whether you are currently volunteering with us or isolating at home, we really value you all!

Learn more about volunteering at St Luke’s.

What have Lawrence of Arabia and a mammoth got in common with the Queen in a hot-air balloon? Find out this weekend, when internationally renowned Plymouth-based artist Brian Pollard provides a rare, behind the scenes tour of his studio, revealing secrets of his highly prized work as part of a weekend of online entertainment for the whole family, raising much-needed funds for St Luke’s.

Each year, we help hundreds of local families by providing specialist end of life care and support for terminally ill people across the city and surrounding areas, and as a charity it relies on support from the community to continue the expert service it provides, including throughout the current pandemic.

Brian, who is Patron of St Luke’s, is just one of the talented supporters of the charity making a difference by joining forces this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (2 – 3 May), as part of our ‘Facebook Community Takeover’. Also featuring a range of virtual activities including fun fitness sessions from Cheezifit, uplifting performances by local bands the Super XLs and Jolly Roger plus singer Poppy Mills, a music quiz from the founder of La La Choirs, a cookery demonstration by Greedy Goose chef Ben, and an around-your-own-home scavenger hunt, it is guaranteed to help spread some cheer during lockdown.

Those tuning in to the One Plymouth Facebook page at 2pm on Saturday will be treated to a virtual tour of Brian’s bright and airy studio, where he creates both his instantly recognisable, colourful paintings of local landmarks, such as Plymouth Hoe and the Eden Centre, as well as those inspired by his travels overseas, such as the stunning sunflower fields of San Gimignano, in Tuscany.

As well as sharing tips to encourage budding artists to pick up their paintbrushes, Brian will also unveil the special painting he has created to commemorate Mayflower 400, which is set to be auctioned later this year in aid of St Luke’s.

Brian said: “St Luke’s is a cause very close to my heart and we must never take its vital work for granted because such compassionate care is so needed when you are dying or caring for someone who is.

“I’m delighted I can play my part in demonstrating support for the charity this weekend, and if I can also inspire others to have a go at painting, hopefully that will help them discover the joy of creating art no matter how much experience they have or don’t have. Painting can be really relaxing and therapeutic so it is perfect for these days when many of us are spending more time at home.”

Penny Hannah, Head of Fundraising, said: “We already knew our supporters were creative as well as kind hearted, but the incredible ideas they are coming up with during lockdown have blown us away. While St Luke’s is co-ordinating the Facebook Community Takeover, all the credit goes to them for so generously giving their time, skills and talents to help us raise the funds we desperately need so that we can continue to come alongside the many local families who need us.

“I want to encourage everyone to see what we have going on this weekend and take part – it will be loads of fun for all ages and benefit a great local cause, too.”

Running order

Important: follow links below, not all events will be hosted on the main St Luke’s Facebook page.

Saturday 2 May
11am – St Luke’s Scavenger Hunt Part 1 – Follow our clues to see if your team can beat the rest – click here. (On St Luke’s Facebook page)
2pm – Brian Pollard, Plymouth-based famous artist will be touring his art studio. Get painting tips and an exclusive look at his finished Mayflower 400 piece – click here. (Hosted on One Plymouth Facebook page)
4pm – Plymouth born singer Poppy Mills will be performing live – click here. (On Poppy’s Facebook page)
6pm – La La Choirs extraordinaire Sam will be going live with a music themed quiz – click here. (On La La Choirs Facebook page)
 
Sunday 3 May
11am – St Luke’s Scavenger Hunt Part 2click here. (On St Luke’s Facebook page)
2pm – The Greedy Goose Cooking Live. Cooking a smoked haddock scotch egg as part of our new watch & dine concept – click here. (On Greedy Goose Facebook page)
6pm – The Jolly Roger, fun, upbeat, pirate-folk band will be performing live – click here. (On Jolly Roger Facebook page)
8pm – Big time band and supporters, the SuperXLs will deliver a special performance of David Bowie ‘Heroes for Heroes’ – click here. (On SuperXLs Facebook page)
Please show your support for your local hospice by donating using the Facebook donate button. Thank you.

 

In these turbulent times when so much is unfamiliar, the upbeat, positive attitude of the St Luke’s workforce is continuing as it always has. Together as staff and volunteers, we’re known across our community as a ‘can do’ crowd, but what is new since the COVID-19 pandemic is a stronger-than-ever sense of shared purpose, not to mention even greater camaraderie.

Helping our service run as smoothly as possible for families who need us more than ever are the staff who’ve been temporarily redeployed, assisting our teams that are under increased pressure due to the pandemic while their own areas are quieter during this time.

Ordinarily, Anthea Whalley would be working at our offices based at Crownhill, where she is Education Administrator. Instead, she is busy with mops, cleaning cloths and laundry 25 hours a week at Turnchapel as part of the domestic team responsible for maintaining the very highest standards of hygiene there.

Anthea said: “With my usual job currently much quieter, I’m glad to be busy doing something so essential as helping to keep the specialist unit such a clean, tidy and uplifting environment for patients and staff. Everyone has been so welcoming, and it has been lovely putting faces to the names of colleagues I have only ever talked to over the phone or via email.

“My eyes have been opened to just how much our domestic staff do. In a typical shift, I clean the bathrooms and keep them stocked with essential items, mop the ward floors, empty bins and launder patients’ bedding. With many staff working from home, the office spaces are pretty quiet but I clean the staff toilets and the kitchen area. I find it satisfying as I work my way around, and I really enjoy chatting to our patients if they want to talk.

“Like all the other patient-facing staff I wear the necessary PPE. It can get hot and the goggles steam up, but there a real sense among us that we’re all in this together. I’m happy to keep doing this for as long as it takes.”

 

Cleaning alongside Anthea is Rachel Brown, who was quick to offer help with domestic duties when it became clear her usual work as a ‘roaming’ manager for our charity shops would not be needed for a while. And also rolling up her sleeves at Turnchapel is Gifts Engagement Fundraiser Lorraine Clark, who has swapped mornings in her usual ‘habitat’ of the office she shares with colleagues at Plympton for the busy kitchen at the unit.

With a background that includes running kitchens in pubs and care homes, plus her current business The Twisted Tea Room, Lorraine quickly felt at home alongside Catering colleagues Tracey and Lee, where she is – as she puts it – Chief Pot Washer. She is also enjoying serving meals to our patients, making time for some friendly banter with them along the way.

Lorraine said: “I like juggling tasks so I’m very happy putting in shifts before returning to my fundraising role in the afternoon. I’ve been struck by how everything is made so dignified for our patients, and it feels good to be helping because extra pairs of hands are so needed.”

Meanwhile, our Retail Area Managers Kerry Hearn and John Saunders – both familiar faces at Plympton, as well as across our network of 34 charity shops – are also putting in hours at Turnchapel, having put themselves forward to be part of the Reception team.

Though the clinical environment is far removed from the one that’s their norm, they’re gladly answering the phones, working alongside Receptionist Jenny Nicholls to provide that all-important friendly and efficient first point of contact for families calling to check on the condition of their loved ones.

Kerry said: “We’re still busy stocktaking, maintaining online sales and checking all our shops to ensure they’re secure during lockdown, but John and I wanted to step up because in crisis we all have to pull together more than ever.

“Initially, we were a bit apprehensive as we’re out of our ‘comfort zone’. We had to quickly get to grips with the phone system and speaking to people who are often, understandably, in a state of high emotion because they can’t be with their loved one in person due to current visiting restrictions. Some of those conversations really stay with you. There’s no doubt that though, that doing this has made me feel even more passionate about our charity. Being at Turnchapel, you see at first hand the vital difference St Luke’s makes.”

John said: “Helping at reception is like coming full circle. It’s so rewarding to see how our retail income is used, funding such superb care. From the domestic staff to the doctors and nurses, every single person is going above and beyond. It’s a privilege to be alongside them.”

Tracey Holman, Head of HR and Organisational Development, said: “I have always known our staff are great at supporting one another, but the positivity and flexibility they’ve demonstrated over recent weeks has taken this to a whole new level. They should all feel very proud that by stepping forward to provide cover wherever it’s most needed they’re making us an even more resilient organisation in these hugely challenging times. A big thank you to all of them.”

Learn more about working for St Luke’s.

It’s straightforward to do and saves your loved one’s unnecessary distress at an already difficult time, yet many of us have not made a will. In fact, in the UK 77% of parents with children under five do not have one*.

With this in mind, St Luke’s is encouraging people to make the most of its Make a Will Week (11 – 15 May), when 11 local solicitors are giving their time free of charge to create or update wills in return for a donation to the charity.

Having a will can help bring you peace of mind, knowing that when you die your wishes will be carried out. Not only does it make it less stressful and time consuming for your friends and family to sort everything out, a will avoids everything you own being shared out in a standard way defined by law, which might not be what you want.

Making a will is especially important if you have children or other family who depend on you financially, or if you want to leave something to people outside your immediate family.

It is also wise to have a will if you own a business – whether in partnership or as a sole trader – stating how you wish the business to be administered in the event of your death. Failure to do this will result in a delayed or protracted process that can result in your family receiving less money than if you had a will in place before your death, or not being able to access equity in the business at a time when they might need it most.

The companies taking part in Make a Will Week include McClure Solicitors, who kindly provide this service all year round in aid of St Luke’s. Other participating firms include: Beers LLP Plymouth; Bright Solicitors; Evans Harvey; Fursdon Knapper; GA Solicitors; Gard & Co; Kitsons; Start Point Law; The Will Centre; Wolferstans, and Woolcombe Yonge.

Speaking about the event, St Luke’s Business Fundraising Manager Nicola Keen said: “Whilst were stuck inside, doing our bit to help during this pandemic, it’s a perfect opportunity to catch up on those jobs that we just keep putting off. Our Make a Will Week is a great time to make or update your will, especially if your marital status has changed, you have moved to a new house or recently added to your family. The best part is all of this can be done online, over the phone or via video call!

“People often forget that it is not always about sorting out the financial aspects. A will ensures your final wishes are clear. Your possessions and property are going to the right place, and the family and children you leave behind will be looked after.”

In addition to the donations it receives through its Make a Will Week, St Luke’s also receives support from those in the community who leave a legacy to the much-loved charity in their will. This generous gesture helps ensure that future generations of local families affected by terminal illness will be helped by St Luke’s expert compassionate care when they need it most.

To make an appointment to create or update your will between 11 and 15 May, simply contact one of the solicitors taking part to make an appointment, quoting ‘St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth Make a Will Week’.

More information can be found here.

*Source: Russell & Russell Solicitors