As well as expert hands-on medical care, helping families make the most of every moment together when a loved one is approaching their last days is all part of the compassion for which St Luke’s is renowned.

So, it was only natural we were there for a young Plymouth family recently, when our team was caring for much-loved Matt Geoffrey as he faced the unthinkable – that time together with his wife Sarah and their children, Eloise and Dylan, was running short.

Just 42 when diagnosed with cancer in 2016, trained lawyer Matt was working as a contracts manager, suited and booted on the surface but a fun-loving ‘tattooed rock monster’ at heart.

Sadly, while his prognosis was initially good, by early 2017 the family was facing the heart-breaking reality that the treatment he’d received had not halted the spread of the disease.

In the face of such devastating news, Matt somehow maintained his hallmark positivity though, and he and Sarah were united in their decision to be as open with Eloise and Dylan as it was possible to be given their respective ages of ten and three, and – as much as they could – to maintain normal life as a close-knit family.

Sarah said: “Matt was always a hugely fun-loving person and that didn’t change after his diagnosis. He was determined to carry on working, but we also made sure we continued to do the things we’d always enjoyed. He and Eloise went to karate together, we had a family holiday to Euro Disney and we also went to festivals – music was always a big passion for us.”

Among the festivals they attended Boardmasters in Cornwall was an annual highlight, so last summer – despite Matt’s declining health – he and Sarah felt it important that their family should not miss out. And, with the help of specialist Dr Doug Hooper from St Luke’s, they were indeed able to pack their bags for the event.

These weren’t just any bags though! Alongside the suntan lotion and picnic blanket was the host of medication Matt required. But not only did Dr Doug provide the prescription for all that was needed for him to be as pain-free as possible, the kind-hearted clinician wrote a letter to accompany it, knowing the festival organiser’s policy of carrying out bag searches before admitting people to the site.

Sarah said: “Being at Boardmasters was extra special because Matt and I knew this would be the last really big thing we’d do together with the children. Despite torrential rain, we had a brilliant time and I’m so grateful to St Luke’s that we’ll always have those precious memories. Matt’s stash of ‘Class A’ narcotics would have got sent us home – or worse – if it wasn’t for Dr Doug!”

Sarah also credits our charity with helping Matt realise his wish of being looked after at home, with her and the children carrying on as normally as possible around him, as he approached the end of his life.

From supplying equipment to help him remain as independent as possible to encouraging the family to approach things in the way that ‘felt right’ for them, our team was alongside throughout those final weeks, including being there to support Eloise and Dylan as they faced the loss of their beloved dad.

Sarah said: “Matt was determined he did not want to die in hospital, and it was St Luke’s that helped make a plan so that he could be at home, including supplying a wheelchair and special bed.”

“Their support also meant our kids were able to be kids, which was amazing for us, and Lisa built up such a good rapport with them that I felt complete trust in her. Her visits before Matt passed away and since have lifted some of the pressure and that means so much.

“St Luke’s have been there all the way through, making it possible for us to still be a family, and without them Matt could not have lived to the end in the way he wanted to.

“It’s really hard to sum up how I feel about everything they have done for us, but they have been like our family’s professional comfort blanket. I can’t thank them enough.”

With the tills ringing at one recently launched retail outlet to further support for its vital service, one of the city’s best-loved charities has just cut the ribbon on another!

Earlier this month, St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, which looks after thousands of terminally ill patients and supports their families when time is running short, opened its new pop-up charity shop selling good quality second-hand furniture in the former Toys ‘R’ Us building at Western Approach.

It’s been a flying start for the new venture, with enough items sold within the first hour of trading alone to help three more families at home – not just through expert hands-on medical care for the patient, but emotional and practical support for them and their loved ones, too. Through the duration of its lease on the site, St Luke’s aims raise enough to provide such help for 200 families.

As well as selling sofas, wardrobes and other furniture, the space is home to Herd HQ for Elmer’s Big Parade*, the sculpture trail which goes live across Plymouth this summer and is expected to attract 250,000 visitors exploring the city to see the enchanting elephants each painted by a talented local artist.

This week – Monday 11 March – saw some of the artists start work on their masterpieces inside the building, where over coming weeks local people are encouraged to pop in for a preview of the fun to come!

Monday also saw St Luke’s – which relies on the support of the local community to keep providing its compassionate care – open a new store on The Broadway, Plymstock, where members of its Urgent Care Service** cut the ribbon.

Modern and bright, the new shop opposite the Costa coffee outlet on the Broadway replaces the store formerly at Dean Hill. But while the site is new, the remit remains the same: to sell quality pre-loved clothes, books, toys and bric-a-brac at bargain prices, raising funds to support St Luke’s specialist care.

Mike Picken, Head of Retail at St Luke’s, said: “Our annual retail income is a critical contribution to keep St Luke’s running. That’s why it’s so important that we seize opportunities to not only continue to meet the needs of our existing much-valued customers but attract new ones as well.

“It’s fantastic to see our centrally located pop-up shop get off to such a great start, and we need to maintain maximum visibility further afield too, across all the other areas where we provide our care. Our new store on the busy Plymstock Broadway is located among well-known high-street brands with more big names rumoured to be moving in nearby soon, so we’re ideally placed to attract more customers to support our vital service.”

Gary Durbin, Manager of St Luke’s the new Plymstock charity shop, said: “There has been a real buzz around the launch of our new shop here in the heart of the local community. We’re proud of our attractive store and it’s great to see it busy already with lots of bargain-loving customers keen to support our charity.”

The new shop is open 7 days a week, including Sunday’s 10am to 4pm, welcoming customers and new donations, too.

For more information about Elmer’s Big Parade.

One in four terminally ill people in the UK are missing out on the end of life care they need, according to research by national hospice and palliative care charity Hospice UK, which is running its Open Up Hospice Care campaign this March – aimed at widening access to this vital support for people living with life-limiting conditions and those who care for them.

The campaign highlights that hospice care is available to everyone, including people who want to be looked after in the place they call home.

Tracey Bleakley, Chief Executive of Hospice UK, said: “With its focus on comfort not cure and promoting quality of life and what matters most to people, hospice care can help them live well until the end of life and support their loved ones, and it is available in more places than most people realise.

“We want to share the benefits of hospice care more widely so that everyone is able to get this vital support and wherever they want.”

While local charity St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth is joining 70 counterparts up and down the country in backing the campaign, it is specifically shining a light on the terminally ill among the homeless population and those living in remote rural communities, two of the groups currently most at risk of being overlooked when it comes to getting expert care in their last days.

In keeping with its ethos of looking after people ‘no matter where’, St Luke’s is committed to reaching and supporting those who need its compassionate care, regardless of their circumstances or location.

For people living in rural areas like Dartmoor though, accessing all sort of services – including end of life care – can be harder than it is for their urban counterparts, so the need for friends and neighbours who look out for each other in times of crisis is more important than ever.

George Lillie, Clinical Director at St Luke’s, said: “While we never turn anyone away, we know there are people who, for reasons such as homelessness and isolation, can find it more difficult to access our specialist care.

“There’s no denying it can be more challenging to meet their needs than it is for us to help patients in more ‘traditional’ settings, and that’s why St Luke’s is spearheading work that encourages open and honest discussions in the communities we serve. Together, we can find creative ways to encourage friends and neighbours to look out for each other and lend support, particularly in challenging times, so that no-one is left behind.”

It was a combination of St Luke’s at home service – with nurses on the road 365 days a year – and the compassion and support of family, friends and neighbours that made a difference to a Tavistock family recently. Jointly, they came alongside local woman Margaret Westlake to ensure she could be looked after as she wished, at home, in her final days last December.

Margaret, who was a Wren during the war and rose to the rank of Petty Officer, spent most of her life living and working in the Tavistock area. Her giving nature saw her make a big contribution to the life of the local community, including giving 21 years’ service to youth work with the Scouts, Guides and other groups, for which she was recognised with the Mayor’s Award.

Having lost her mother when she was just eight years old and later her son, Brian, when he was 21, Margaret was no stranger to tragedy. Her resilience and caring nature were evident to all, however – never more so than when she and husband Roy chose to foster brother and sister John and Sue, providing a loving and supportive home.

So, it was both heart-breaking and challenging for the family when time was running short for much-loved Margaret, who was living with cancer.

John, who lives in Bristol and visited his mother regularly, said: “Mum was such a strong, talented and supportive person, always thinking of others, and it was very hard seeing her quality of life decline. It was important to us that she received the high-quality care she deserved at home, where she wanted to be looked after.

“It was St Luke’s who enabled us to ensure mum’s wishes were met, and I don’t know how we’d have coped without their superb care. As her health declined, their support increased. This meant she was able to remain in familiar surroundings, with her pain relief carefully managed, which was also a great comfort to us.

“Her care was so well co-ordinated between St Luke’s staff and the district nurses, and at every stage mum’s dignity was respected. It was clear the professionals looking after her thought of her as a person, not just a patient. They developed a real rapport with her, and we were touched by their compassion and attention to detail, not just for mum but for us as a family.”

As John explains, it was this team effort – which included help from family and friends – that ensured Margaret’s care was second to none. He said: “As well as being very grateful to St Luke’s for their outstanding care, which gave us peace of mind, we so appreciated the support given by Heidi, a family friend who lives locally. She went above and beyond to be there for mum, which was very reassuring to me, especially at those times when my responsibilities in Bristol meant I could not be with her as often as I wanted.”

St Luke’s aims to help everyone live well to the very end of their lives, so if – like Heidi – you would like to be that compassionate friend or neighbour and help make a difficult time that little bit easier, you can access free training and support from the charity. Find out more at www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/compassionatecommunities.

You can read more about St Luke’s work in opening up hospice care to everyone who needs it – and how you can help – online here.

One in four terminally ill people in the UK are missing out on the end of life care they need, according to research by national hospice and palliative care charity Hospice UK, which is running its Open Up Hospice Care campaign this March, aimed at widening access to this vital support for people living with life-limiting conditions and those who care for them.

The campaign highlights that hospice care is for everyone, including those who want to be looked after in the place they call home.

Tracey Bleakley, Chief Executive of Hospice UK, said: “With its focus on comfort not cure and promoting quality of life and what matters most to people, hospice care can help them live well until the end of life and support their loved ones, and it is available in more places than most people realise.

“We want to share the benefits of hospice care more widely so that everyone is able to get this vital support and wherever they want.”

While local charity St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth is joining 70 counterparts up and down the country in backing the national campaign, it is specifically shining a light on the terminally ill among the homeless population and also people living in isolated places across the areas it serves, two groups currently among those most at risk of being overlooked when it comes to getting expert care in their last days.

In keeping with its ethos looking after people ‘no matter where’, St Luke’s is spearheading open conversations about the challenges of ensuring its vital service reaches all who need it, so that nobody has to die alone, in pain or in distress.

George Lillie, Clinical Director and Deputy Chief Executive at the charity, said: “St Luke’s is a hospice without walls, and many of those for whom we provide care want to receive it in the place they think of as home, whether this is in a ‘traditional’ setting, or whether they live in a remote area, a care home, a hostel for the homeless, or even in prison. Terminal illness does not discriminate and neither does hospice care, so it’s important that we work closely with the communities we serve to address the challenges so that no-one is left behind.”

Often having poor health and shorter life expectancy, and with no fixed abode, homeless people can be particularly vulnerable yet may not be known to a GP or other health professionals.

When ‘home’ is a hostel bed or a sleeping bag in a doorway, and when there’s no family or friends around to provide support, what happens when your time is running short? Who is there to show compassion and give care then?

Acknowledging the challenges of reaching and supporting people who are often living transient lives, St Luke’s is pioneering work with other local health and social care providers that can help ensure the homeless are not forgotten at such times.

St Luke’s Specialist Nurse Gilly Barringer said: “It’s important to us that no-one who needs our care is ever turned away, so we’ve been reaching out to terminally ill people among the homeless in our city by working closely with charity Shekinah and the George House Hostel. My role has involved getting to know the professionals in these organisations to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by them and the people they support.”

At George House Hostel, which provides 48 of the city’s 250 beds for homeless people, Gilly has been working with staff so that with their facilitation she can come alongside any residents identified as in need of St Luke’s compassionate care.

She said: “With people who are homeless, it can be quite challenging having these sensitive conversations because often they move from place to place. However, working with the hostel staff enables me to build a relationship with the terminally ill person, even if I sometimes have to seize the moment and be quite opportunistic in my approach.

“As I get to know them, we discuss their needs and wishes relating to their care and where they want to be looked after, which for some is within the hostel because that is what they regard as home. It’s so important to have these conversations particularly because sometimes, due to drug or alcohol abuse, their care needs can be more complex and their deterioration more rapid.

“Working with the person, their GP and hostel staff means together we can put a tailored plan in place to help ensure they’re where they want to be, receiving the high-quality care they need, at end of life.”

Sean Mitchell, Manager at George House Hostel, said: “With the need for our services increasing but resources shrinking, initially I had reservations about us getting involved with end of life planning for the people we help. However, working with St Luke’s we have mutual respect for each other’s skills and collaborate in the best interests of any terminally ill residents who need this specialist care at George House.

“With the training and support St Luke’s provides, we are much better equipped to help them realise their wish of ending their days in a more positive way here, with people they know around them, rather than dying alone in hospital or on the streets.”

You can read more about St Luke’s work in opening up hospice care to everyone who needs it – and how you can help – online here.

We’re excited to announce the opening of our new shop in Plymstock.

Located opposite the Costa coffee shop on the Broadway, the store will open on 11 March following the closure of our shop on Dean Hill on 6 March. So, if you’re in the area, pop by and see Shop Manager Gary and his wonderful volunteers, who will be joined by members of our Urgent Care Service nurses, who will be cutting the ribbon at the new shop at 2.30pm on the big day.

Our soon-to-be launched pop-up charity shop is the talk of the town and, as you read this, it’s all hands on deck for the opening of the new store in the former Toys ‘R’ Us building at Western Approach on 4 March 2019!

The pop-up shop, will not only be selling good quality secondhand furniture to raise funds for our expert care but will have dedicated space for ‘Herd HQ’, home of our Elmer project.

Be sure to visit the new store!

One of the most enjoyable and inspiring ways people raise funds for St Luke’s is through our popular Open Gardens scheme each spring and summer, when the gates of gorgeous gardens across Devon and Cornwall are thrown open to the public in aid of our charity.

This year, Open Gardens will be extra special as it reaches its tenth anniversary! Launching on Mothering Sunday – 31 March – with the opening of the stunning gardens at spectacular Gnaton Hall in Yealmpton – the season includes a diverse selection of beautiful gardens chosen to inspire and delight.

The success of Open Gardens is thanks to the garden owners and our hard-working volunteers, and you can see all that’s in store by picking up a copy of the brand new brochure. This special tenth anniversary edition is made all the more covetable due to the charming painting featured on the cover.

The vibrant image is the work of globally renowned Plymouth-based artist Brian Pollard, who is a Patron of St Luke’s. What’s more, Brian has very generously donated the original and there’s a chance to win it in the Open Gardens raffle, raising even more much-needed funds for us!

We’re so grateful to Brian for his support – not only has he previously designed Christmas cards for St Luke’s but he has painted one of the elephant sculptures for this summer’s Elmer’s Big Parade.

So, pick up your copy of the brochure and start planning your garden outings. There are so many treasures to discover, including gardens not normally open to the public and many include plant sales. See you there!

View the brochure online.

When we are extolling the benefits of volunteering with St Luke’s, we often focus on the opportunity to gain new skills and hence be more attractive to employers, plus the well-being boost volunteering in the community can bring.

So, it was with great pride and delight that we heard about two people, Mia Ward-Edwards and Claire Squires, who have recently made the transition from volunteers to members of staff right here with St Luke’s, after they proved themselves such great assets and shone in their job interviews.

At Turnchapel, where she is a familiar face at our Driftwood Café and on the wards, Mia has gone from volunteer to paid member of staff with the Catering team. For the 20-year-old, who was living with anxiety so severe it resulted in panic attacks and fits – a condition that started while studying for her A levels – taking the step of joining as a volunteer was in itself understandably a challenge. However, with the support of both her employment advisor and staff at St Luke’s, plus some prior experience in the catering industry, she went from strength to strength and has recently secured 16 hours of paid employment per week with our charity.

As well as serving in the café, Mia’s role includes helping with food preparation and stock-taking, as well as providing a catering service to patients on the wards.

She said: “The experience I gained as a volunteer has been so valuable and I’m thrilled to now be a staff member on the team. Everyone has made me feel safe and calm, and I love that my role has a positive impact on our patients, too. Volunteering has really boosted my confidence and helped me overcome my anxiety, and I’m excited that I will also be mentoring new volunteers who might also be able to go on to paid employment.

“Before I started volunteering, I thought I would never be able to work again, but now I’m looking forward to my first pay packet!”

Meanwhile Claire – who volunteered for 18 months in our charity shop near her home in Estover – has recently been appointed to the full-time post of Shop Assistant in our soon-to-be-launched pop-up charity store selling secondhand furniture at the former Toys ‘R’ Us building.

For Claire, who remembers the compassion St Luke’s showed when caring for her much-loved late mum, joining our charity as a volunteer was a natural move when she was looking for an opportunity to make a difference locally.

She said: “It all fell into place. I wanted to give something back and then the St Luke’s shop opened up right on my doorstep. It seemed like fate to me.”

While helping at Estover, Claire received the support and encouragement of Shop Manager Marie Young and gained her NVQ in retail and diploma in management. Alongside the on-the-job experience she gained in customer service there, this put her in a strong position to apply for the paid role she has recently started.

She said: “I loved working in the Estover shop and am so grateful for the experience and qualifications I gained. It’s so good that if the right opportunity comes up and you’re well suited to the role, St Luke’s will recruit from within. I’m really looking forward to using my experience of serving customers and replenishing stock in a brand new venture for St Luke’s. It’s really exciting!”

Learn more about volunteering opportunities at St Luke’s.

For most of us, our birthday is a special day but among St Luke’s supporters are those who use the occasion to help others, giving it extra meaning.

Big-hearted student Adam Williams from Plymouth did just that recently, with friends and family donating so generously to his ‘birthday fundraiser’ on Facebook that he smashed his £1,000 target and reached an amazing £1,500!

Adam’s fundraising was prompted by his desire to celebrate the life of his beloved mum, Keryn Pope, and give something back to St Luke’s, who looked after Keryn in her final days before she sadly passed away, in 2016.

Adam said: “Mum was such a special person, always putting others before herself, and I’ll forever be grateful to St Luke’s for the care they gave.

“The wonderful way they looked after mum meant we got to spend those precious last days with her at home. Having her back from hospital meant so much to us all, and this is my way of saying thank you.”

We’re so grateful to Adam and everyone who donated. At his request, the money will be added to the St Luke’s Celebrate a Life Tribute Fund set up by Keryn’s husband Mark in memory of her.

Here’s how to set up your very own fundraiser on Facebook.

So committed are the kind-hearted folk who get behind our charity that sometimes – thanks to their passion and hard work, plus the generosity of those who lend support – the event they organise in support of St Luke’s becomes a hotly anticipated annual fixture in the city’s calendar.

Rockfest – the two-day live music extravaganza enjoyed by hundreds each year at Crash Manor – is a shining example, and this Easter weekend will see the popular event reach its tenth anniversary. It will be a poignant milestone for Cuz Cussen, the event’s founder and organiser, whose love for his late mum Dot, and his gratitude for the compassion with which St Luke’s looked after her, Cuz and his dad Don, inspired Rockfest.

Powerhouse Cuz always dreamed big, determining to raise £100,000, a titan of a total to support our specialist care.

And, with £90,000 already raised in memory of Dot thanks to the following Rockfest has built up over the years, Cuz issuing a rallying call to live music lovers to unite for this year’s weekender, on 20 and 21 April, which features 19 bands ranging from rock to reggae and from punk to ska.

Cuz said: “Mum was awesome. She was always looking out for others, whether family or neighbours. And she made the best pasties in the world – never matched in the 11 years she’s been gone, sadly!

“St Luke’s looked after her in the very best way, and she was able to pass away peacefully, surrounded by family. I can’t thank them enough for what they did in our time of need and with continued help from generous fans of live music, reaching the £100,000 target is within touching distance!”

A huge thank you to Cuz, his family and all who support Rockfest, and if you like live music, be sure to be there and enjoy Easter weekend in an electric atmosphere while helping Cuz reach that terrific total.

You can get tickets on the door for £10 per day. For more information, check out the official page.