For ‘warm, funny and fearless’ Lynne Roper of Mary Tavy, a paramedic who was passionate about outdoor swimming, ‘passing it down the line’ didn’t need to end at her death. “People can swim and take me with them,” she said.

Lynne did not mean this literally. Living with a brain tumour, she knew her condition was terminal, but she was determined to see the adventures she recorded about her sixty-plus wild swims published to inspire others to swim wild, ‘read water’ and take educated risks as she did.

St Luke’s cared for Lynne at Turnchapel before sadly, she passed away in 2016, and it was while she was in our care she met writer Tanya Shadrick, who she entrusted with her diaries for posthumous publication.

Thanks to Tanya’s tireless editing, the diaries became the book Lynne had envisioned, ‘Wild Woman Swimming – a Journal of Westcountry Waters’. Not only was it published in 2018, following consultation with Lynne’s parents, Mike and Jenny Roper, this year the book went on to be longlisted for the prestigious Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing.

In keeping with Lynne’s wishes, profits from the sale of the book are benefiting St Luke’s, and recently Mike and Jenny, together with Lynne’s brother Dave and her friend Sophie Pierce – who wrote the introduction to the book – visited Turchapel to present our Community Fundraiser Pete Ward with a cheque for £1,000.

Mike and Jenny said: “We will be forever grateful to St Luke’s and all the doctors and nurses for the tremendous, loving care our daughter received in the last six weeks of her life.”

Peter said: “St Luke’s was privileged to care for Lynne in the last weeks of her life, and we are so grateful to her parents for this generous donation that will make a difference to more families who need our help during a very challenging time.”

Wild Woman Swimming’, a ‘book for outdoor swimmers, nature lovers and all who prize the wild and free’, is published by The Selkie Press.

Across Plymouth, South West Devon and East Cornwall, our network of charity shops is supported by a legion of customers snapping up bargains, generating vital income to support our service. But did you know that while many of the items they buy have been donated directly to the shops by our kind-hearted community, a large proportion of stock comes via the hive of activity that is our Distribution Centre at Plympton?

This centralised support centre run by an industrious team of staff and volunteers is crucial to the smooth-running of St Luke’s retail operation, which – as well as 33 charity shops – includes our eBay and Amazon stores that enable us to sell far beyond our surrounding area. Mark Kendall, Logistics and Warehouse Manager, explains what it takes to deliver a distribution service that ensures our customers are never short of quality and choice.

Mark said: “While some of St Luke’s shops are ‘self-sufficient’, receiving a steady stream of goods directly from supporters, the Distribution Centre provides an alternative drop-off point. It’s where our team sifts through thousands of donated items and decides which shops to send them to.

“These not random decisions though – they’re informed by regular information we receive from Area Managers John Saunders and Kerry Hearn and shop managers, who have expert knowledge of what sells best at each store. They know that what’s popular at Modbury, for example, doesn’t necessarily fly off the shelves in Plymouth city centre. We also have portfolios with details of each shop, its location and community demographics, to which the team can refer when they’re sorting donations. This is important because we have a duty to our donors who give us goods, and to our charity itself, to get the best possible price.

“Retail presence online is also key to generating funds, and our charity uses eBay and Amazon to reach a much wider audience, including overseas, to sell donated items that are rare or collectable, such as vintage toys and first-edition books. That’s why the Distribution team includes staff and volunteers who are collectors with a trained eye that helps them spot ‘treasure’ likely to attract a higher price online than in our shops.

“Embracing technology has also enhanced our large-item furniture collection service that’s provided seven days a week to ensure our five shops stocking new and second-hand furniture receive a regular supply.

“Thanks to St Luke’s investment, we now have a telemetry system that enables us to be much more efficient. The drivers of our leased vans are equipped with electronic tablets with in-built sat-navs so that the Retail Admin team knows where they are at any given time and can plan the most efficient routes for them, giving the donors they’re collecting items from an estimated time of arrival. This reduces wait times, helping St Luke’s maintain its excellent reputation. I’m proud that other charities are seeing what we do here as the ‘gold standard’ and aiming to follow our example.

“Innovation is also important when it comes to doing our bit for the environment. Donated items that can’t be sold in our shops are recycled wherever possible because they can still bring in valuable income from the companies who pay us for them. In fact, there’s enough to fill the three 3.5-tonne vehicles that collect from us five days a week! Unsellable items are taken off to recycling plants around the world and we aim to be ethical and avoid them ending up in landfill wherever possible.

“The market for recycling is very volatile though – for example, the price we can get for textiles has dropped ten pence per kilo in the last 12 months – so I keep a close eye on which companies pay best and we use them accordingly. It’s all part of maximising income to build resilience for our charity.”

“There’s much more to what we do at the Distribution Centre than most people realise. We regularly welcome volunteer teams from local companies, who really enjoy it for team-building and it’s great for raising awareness of St Luke’s. We also work with the DWP to help people who’ve been out of work for some time gain new skills and build confidence through volunteering, which can help them go on to find paid employment, including – in three recent cases – with St Luke’s.

“Of course, none of what we do would be possible without such a dedicated team of staff and volunteers rolling up their sleeve’s day in, day out – not just getting things done but doing them to such a high standard. I want to say a big thank you to each and every one of them.”

When the person you love has died, seeing the festivities and merriment all around you in the run-up to Christmas – and through the holiday itself – can be a particularly challenging time. We spoke to three people about how it feels to be facing Christmas without their loved one and what they think helps them through such a poignant period.

Stacey’s mother Bridget Horrell was landlady of the Two Bridges pub in Saltash before she became terminally ill. St Luke’s cared for Bridget in hospital, at home and then at our specialist unit at Turnchapel before sadly, she passed away early this year.

Stacey said: “Mum was such an outgoing person and could fill even the quietest room with laughter. She loved being landlady of the pub and was always making new friends. When she was diagnosed, I struggled to believe it at first and was always waiting for someone to tell me she could be treated and get better, but she didn’t.

“Mum was so brave and fought every battle that came her way. We had just eight weeks with her before she died – they were amazing but it was not long enough and losing her broke me and my sister Bex’s hearts in two. St Luke’s were amazing all the all the way through, and I’ll always remember how the nurses were so caring and compassionate. When mum died, our family was around her – we sang songs and there was laughter as well as tears. St Luke’s made that possible for us.

“I don’t know what this first Christmas without her is going to be like. Mum loved this time of year, so I treasure the memories I have of being a little girl waking up super early on Christmas morning and mum getting up with us instead of sending us back to bed because it was only 4am! She’d just let us open our presents and sit there with such joy on her face. When it came to tree decorations, she kept all our handcrafted ones and would hang them up every year – no matter how bad they were, she was proud of our achievements.

“Being without mum is still very raw and Bex and I have good and bad days. We both have a little boy each that we need to be strong for though, and Bex has bought us a robin to go on our trees. Mum always said that if we saw a robin it would be her watching us and looking after us, so this year we will have that to help us remember her.”

Before she died, Bridget was determined to raise money for St Luke’s, including braving a sponsored head shave. Her family, including Stacey, are kindly carrying on the support for our charity through further fundraising, for which we are very grateful.

Maureen Tubman, who lives in Ugborough, is part of St Luke’s Music Group that meets at Turnchapel fortnightly, bringing together those who have lost loved ones to sing and make music together, and find mutual support. Maureen’s beloved husband John, to whom she was married for 62 years, was looked after by our then-Crisis Team (now End of Life Urgent Care Service), who helped make him comfortable at home following a period in hospital. It is almost two years since John died, in December 2017.

“John was a wonderful husband as well as a loving father to our two sons, Jonathan and Jamie. He was what I’d call an ‘old-fashioned’ man, always so courteous, and had the most vibrant, deep voice. His career was in the army, where he was a mechanic, and then in banking and insurance, which really highlights the two sides to him – highly intelligent but also loving to get his hands dirty, fixing engines.

“Losing him was very hard and, nearly two years on, I can still find it difficult living in our home without him, especially after being together for decades. I try to keep busy during the day, and I find that helps, but I feel it more in the evenings not having him with me, and watching the rugby – and other programmes we used to enjoy together – doesn’t feel right without him.

“My sons are a great support to me and I know they will help me through the coming Christmas period, too. Last year was our second without John, and Jamie and I spent Christmas Day with Jonathan his wife Sarah at their home in Cornwall.

“Of course, they were also missing John a great deal so it meant a lot to me that they were so considerate and respectful of my feelings. They knew I didn’t want to make a big deal of Christmas and have any fuss, so we had a relaxed, low-key time together and ate cottage pie on our knees instead of turkey and all the trimmings at the table. This year, we’ll also be together, but we’ll go back to enjoying the turkey together.

“I know it won’t always be easy because of missing John, but I’ll be cherishing my memories of him. Having my family around me, and a faith that comforts me, does help, and I also feel it’s important for me to focus on others and what matters to them. It helps me not to turn inward and to keep moving forward.”

Also, part of our Music Group – where he enjoys playing the harmonica – is Jack, who is in his 80s and lives in Beacon Park. Jack first came into contact with St Luke’s when Eileen, his much-loved wife of 40 years, was in Derriford Hospital following a brain aneurism. A member of our team there noticed he was struggling during such a difficult time and was there to comfort him.

Sadly, Eileen passed away in 2016 and since then, Jack has lived alone. Speaking movingly about his wife, he said: “I miss Eileen very much. She was a quiet person and really caring. She loved cross-stitch and was always knitting for people, too. She made me so many jumpers!

“Eileen was part of a Gingerbread group for people on their own with children and it was on a visit to St Mark’s Church that I first met her.  She had six children and when we got married I became ‘Dad’ to Joanne, Paula, Steve, Martyn, Mark and John, as well as my children from my first marriage, Christine and Michael. Sadly, Mark died in his 30s.

“Even having a family who are caring, it can be lonely without my lovely wife, and with all the social occasions at this time of year it’s difficult because I don’t want to feel like a party pooper. Fortunately though, I find most people respect that and know I prefer things to be low key.

“I’ll be at my daughter Paula’s for Christmas Day. It also helps that I’ll be spending time at my church, St Pancras.   We have a big lunch thrown open to parishioners just before Christmas, and I’m looking forward to putting on my Christmas waistcoat and bow tie and serving them.

“As always, I’ll be treasuring my memories of Eileen, especially the wonderful holidays we had in Spain and the Channel Islands – we always tried to have the best we could afford. I’ll never forget seeing my shy wife light up when she dressed as a ‘flapper girl’ for fancy dress competition on holiday. She looked fantastic and we had such fun. She was a very special lady.”

The launch of the city-wide partnership showed how aspiration is being turned into action across Plymouth, benefitting people at end of life.

Back in May 2018, at the Plymouth: a Compassionate City conference hosted by St Luke’s and attended by organisations ranging from schools and places of worship to solicitors and voluntary groups, keynote speaker Professor Allan Kellehear threw down a challenge to those present, saying: “Every day, people die and hearts are broken. Death and dying are more than medical issues and caring for those affected is not just the role of the doctor and the chaplain. End of life care is everyone’s responsibility and we all have a practical role to play.”

This rallying call to build on the good work already happening across Plymouth to make our city a more compassionate place for people at end of life, and those caring for them, was met with overwhelming support. So, nearly 18 months on, at the launch of the End of Life Compassionate City Charter Professor Kellehear urged Plymouth to adopt, it was an opportunity to see how groups and organisations have been working together, turning aspiration into action so that no-one feels left behind.

Having a city-wide end of life network working in partnership with the City Council, as well as other public bodies and local charities, is already beginning to ensure that Plymouth is a city that does not shy away from the ‘taboo’ subjects of death, dying and bereavement but talks openly about them. In fact, Plymouth has the accolade of being recognised at England’s first Compassionate City, but this is just the beginning.

The Compassionate City initiative is being led and co-ordinated by Gail Wilson, Deputy Director of Clinical Services at St Luke’s. Gail said: “Across the city and the wider communities there are many examples of individuals and groups going the extra mile to support people during times of sickness, bereavement and loss, from providing a listening ear to helping with practical things such as walking the dog and collecting shopping.

“I have been amazed by what various organisations and individuals across the city have achieved in the past 18 months, with the support of the compassionate community team at St Luke’s . This is a really a great start but there is much more to do, so I would encourage anybody who wants to be involved to sign up to the network and join us, so together we can create compassionate networks where we live and work so that no-one at end of life or experiencing bereavement and loss feels isolated or alone.”

Steve Statham, Chief Executive of St Luke’s, said: “We have a key role to play in supporting our community and networks in times of crisis and loss. This charter is about how we can work together towards extending the support we give to people at a most difficult time in their life”.

Ruth Harrell, Director of Public Health for Plymouth, said: “By taking a public health approach to end of life care, we can give a voice to all those affected by death, dying, bereavement and loss and work together to create a city that does not shy away from their needs but provides a compassionate collective response.”

Once the last of the turkey sandwiches are eaten and there are only repeats on television, thoughts naturally turn to the year ahead and what’s in store. So, recognising it’s a popular time for making resolutions and seeking a new challenge, we’re set to launch two of the city’s most hotly anticipated fundraising events for 2020, our Men’s Day Out and Midnight Walk, early next year!

Meanwhile, those who want to take on a once-in-a-lifetime challenge further afield and experience an iconic bucket-list destination as they raise money for St Luke’s are signing up to our exciting Great Wall of China Trek taking place 6 – 14 November 2021.

This unforgettable adventure, hiking along one of the most famous structures in the world, is an opportunity to do something different in a culture so unlike our own while raising sponsorship that will make a difference to families much closer to home. See the fundraising pages of our website for more details.

Recently, representatives of St Luke’s clinical and non-clinical teams headed north for the annual Hospice UK Conference, the flagship event that brings together those involved in leading hospice care for adults, young people and children.

At the event in the heart of Liverpool city centre, close to the waterfront of the world-famous Mersey, our team joined hundreds of their peers from hospices up and down the country to hear the latest thinking on the key issues affecting the services we all provide.

With an increasing ageing population and people developing more complex conditions, standing still is not an option for hospices, which was reflected in the title of this year’s conference – Dying for Change.

Steve Statham, Chief Executive of St Luke’s, said: “The theme was not just evolving but revolutionising hospice care to meet the challenges ahead. The conference gave us the opportunity to focus on how we can develop what we do so that it meets the ever-changing and complex needs of a growing and ageing population.

“Sharing ideas and challenging current ways of working means the sector can develop radical new solutions to take hospice care forward. We need to evolve what we already do as well as being revolutionary.”

The conference also highlighted the public support for hospices, with £1.15billion raised: “We owe everything to the generous public. Last year 225,000 people were helped by hospices, up 8% year on year. We have also seen a vast increase in care at home.”

Did you know that nationally, 64% of charity trustees are men and that the average age of a trustee is 61? (Source)

We’re pleased to say our board is more diverse, but we’re striving to ensure it is truly representative of the community St Luke’s serves. That’s why – with it being national Trustees’ Week (4 – 8 November) – we not only want to thank the dedicated men and women who kindly give their skills and time free of charge to govern and guide our charity, but also highlight the opportunity for you to join them.

With the recent launch of our five-year strategy setting out our ambitious goals for the next half-decade, it’s a particularly exciting time to get involved as part of our Board of Trustees.

Trustee, Charles Hackett, said: “Being a trustee at St Luke’s supports my personal development but more importantly allows me to use my skills to help, in some way, the community in which I live.”

Being a trustee with St Luke’s can be rewarding for many reasons, including a sense of making a difference with a well-respected charity that touches the lives of local families to gaining new experiences and forging new relationships. (For an insight into our recent work, take a look at our latest impact report.)

Fiona Field, who sits on the Organisational Risk and Audit Committee and chairs the Health & Safety Committee, said: “I give about one day per month on average, this is divided between being a member of the board, chairing the health and safety committee, visiting teams across St Luke’s and taking part in some of the fundraising activities. I have regularly attended the Open Gardens in the summertime, sold programmes on Plymouth Hoe at the Firework Championships and walked the Elmer Trail. I am also the named trustee for both the Launceston and Tavistock retail shops so visit them both periodically, usually buying something on every visit as well!

“I find the work interesting and rewarding and I am always proud to talk to others about the brilliant work that everyone at St Luke’s does for such a worthy cause. I am keen that the services St Luke’s offers continue to be of the highest quality possible for our patients and their families locally.”

We’re seeking people with the knowledge, skills and motivation to help ensure that as St Luke’s evolves, we continue to make wise decisions that mean we can meet the challenges ahead, including reaching underrepresented groups who sometimes struggle to be heard.

As well as contributing to board meetings, you’ll have the opportunity to use your skills with a sub-committee that makes best use of your specific area of expertise. There’ll also be opportunities to further your experience through hearing from guest speakers and attending national conferences.

If you have a background in community development, including education, or in HR, we’re particularly keen to hear from you.

For more information, please contact Sarah Gore at sgore@stlukes-hospice.org.uk.

When news came that a patient at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth who desperately wanted to spend precious time with her horse would see her wish fulfilled, the charity’s Communications and Marketing team sprang into action to ensure the horse’s visit to the specialist unit’s grounds to be with his loving owner was captured on video, just as she and her husband wanted. You can read the story here.

Viewed by over 500,000 people online, this moving film not only meant a great deal to the patient and her family, it perfectly illustrates the way the skills of the team dovetail to create impact for St Luke’s, telling our stories both internally to colleagues and externally, including to new audiences as well as loyal supporters.

As with all departments across our charity, it is always ‘patients first’ for this very busy team, led by Head of Communications and Marketing, Robert Maltby, who has been with the charity for over six years. No matter what other work is scheduled, they recognise that prioritising the needs of those in our care is an essential part of making sure they feel special despite their very difficult circumstances.

Robert said: “The film is a great example of the additional people skills involved in our work. It would be easy to think as an outsider a 30-second video is fairly quick and simple to produce. In reality, behind the scenes it took our team of four several days, with many interactions with the patient and their family, to build trust and deliver something that was both respectful and met everybody’s expectations. You are dealing with a situation that can change by the hour and re-purposing content for a multitude of platforms.”

“As a manager, I also have to ensure the health and well-being of my team are a priority, encouraging them to open up about the emotional challenges they may face when working on such an emotive story. It can be very emotionally challenging, but it is a real privilege to be involved with a family at such a personal and private time.”

 

Robert added, “While for many healthcare professionals there are support mechanisms in place, for example ‘clinical supervision’, St Luke’s should be praised for going over and above to support non-clinical staff. Often for every patient video or photo the wider pubic may come across, there are many more videos the team are involved in that stay private for the family. If support wasn’t in place it would ultimately take its toll.”

While the team of four spends much of their time collaborating to make sure the public and other stakeholders, from healthcare professionals to local authorities, are better informed about our vital service, through brochures, feature articles, media relations and social media, they also work hard to meet our charity’s need to engage donors and people willing to fundraise for us to ensure our work continues for generations to come.

From creating and delivering innovative, high-impact print and digital campaigns that help rally thousands to take part in our flagship events such as Tour de Moor and Men’s Day Out, to crafting creative content for Hospice Care Week and the Impact Report, Robert, Jesse (Graphic Designer), Rhianne (Digital Communications Officer)  and Paola (Communications Officer) take pride in producing work that not only boosts awareness but reflects well on the highly professional and compassionate organisation we are.

This commitment to high standards extends to St Luke’s retail network, too. Robert said: “With our chain of over 30 charity shops, as with all our print and digital materials, making sure St Luke’s branding is ‘on point’ is crucial. Our team’s work to build, enhance and protect it is an important part of maintaining the high profile and high esteem we hold in the community and attention to detail really matters. So, whether it’s shop signage, staff uniforms, web pages or leaflets, we are here to make sure the look is right.”

Read the brand and communications guidelines that are the bible behind a great Communications and Marketing team.

When you factor in that the team is also responsible for all St Luke’s social media across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, key internal communications through the intranet and St Luke’s TV screens, and working with the media to deal with their queries and promote important news about our charity, you realise that they are masters of multi-tasking and time management!

The challenges?  “I think our communications challenges are the same as every other hospice in the UK, and that is around the public’s understanding of how hospice care has changed over the years,” said Robert. “People will associate hospice care with a building. That was St Luke’s over 35 years ago. Over 50% of our care is now delivered at home with only 5% in our traditional hospice building.  Taboos around talking about death and dying, and understanding we are about more than just cancer and go beyond serving the city of Plymouth also are communications barriers. However, we are making great progress to change perceptions with stakeholders by ensuring simple key communications messages flow through all our channels at every opportunity.”

What makes a good communications and marketing strategy? “I firmly believe the key to a successful hospice communications and marketing strategy is all about storytelling and a focus on the people. It is not necessarily about the ‘ask’ to get loyal stakeholder buy-in,” said Robert. “As many of my fellow hospice communications professionals will concur, there is a lot more behind the glossy fundraising posters and social media posts. From protecting the reputation of the charity to horizon scanning for new trends and technology, many of these daily tasks happen unnoticed. The future of digital communications is exciting. As regional media declines outside our major cities, becoming self sufficient with your digital content has the potential to reach far greater audiences than relying on a traditional media release”.

Robert concluded, “It’s definitely a challenge though because not only are there so many teams needing our support, we also get affected emotionally when we are meeting patients and their loved ones and telling their personal stories to the world – that’s part of what makes us human.”

Read the stories behind St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth.

With an increasing ageing population, hospices like ours can’t reach everyone who needs our care and, for the majority of people it will be their GP, and their teams, that look after them at home at end of life.

When this care is high quality, planned and consistent, patients and their carers benefit, and – thanks to the Daffodil Standards, a free resource introduced earlier this year by the Royal College of General Practitioners and Marie Curie – there’s clear guidance with simple steps that are helping hardworking GPs and their practice teams of nurses, receptionists, healthcare assistants and pharmacists work more closely together and make simple yet effective changes that benefit people whose time is running short.

Experienced GPs and healthcare professionals helped to develop the standards, making sure they fit into the work these teams are already doing, rather than adding to their workload.

Quite simply, the Daffodil Standards help the whole practice team to spot areas for improvement and build on the good care they already provide.

It’s not about ticking boxes, but building the confidence of staff and a compassionate culture, recognising when someone needs support earlier, and sensitively involving patients and their families in their care.

Life is precious, and better support in this area for patients means they can focus on enjoying the time they have left rather than worrying about how to get the care and support they need.

Read more at the standards here.