It was 1994 that saw the opening of a dedicated hospice for Portsmouth and the surrounding area. It also marked the success of the community working together collectively to address a community need. The actual campaign for the Hospice started in 1972, headed up by a group of nurses from Somers Town Health Centre who worked tirelessly to get the need of a local hospice known.
Christine Banerjee, one of the original nurses who founded the campaign and is still supporting Rowans as an emeritus trustee and honorary vice-president, shares her story about those important days.
Recognising the necessity for a local hospice
‘Working as a district nursing sister, it was apparent that there was nowhere locally for patients to receive complete palliative care.
‘There was the busy general hospital ward, travelling miles to Countess Mountbatten Hospice in Southampton - this covered a huge area, which meant that there were very few places available - or Borden House in Petersfield.
‘As part of our ongoing training we visited St Christopher’s Hospice in London and learned exactly what a hospice is, what it provides to all without discrimination, a specialist unit exclusively offering holistic care.
‘We saw what it was like for patients to end their days tranquil in a serene atmosphere. Where pain control met the needs of the patient, allowing them to live comfortably until they died. Therefore without exception, all nurses and many colleagues agreed that a hospice was a vital necessity in the city.’
Awareness and fundraising
‘We were a group made up of staff, nursing, clerical and others, desperate to get the need of a hospice known. However it was hard, as a hospice was something quite new to most people at that time.
‘It was difficult to get anyone to give. We all worked full-time, had families and homes to run, yet found time every day for fundraising activities and generating publicity for a local hospice for our local community.”
The Lord Mayor’s Appeal
It was 1984 that marked a key turning point in the campaign, when this tenacious group successfully lobbied the newly-elected Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, John Marshall, to select building a Portsmouth Area Hospice for his appeal. They spurred him on by sending him a donation before his appeal was even confirmed!
From then the momentum of the hospice grew. Christine continues: ‘I would meet with the lord mayor every week in his home to prepare, plan and design a building and strategy to spread the word.
‘We gathered key people, a doctor, solicitor, banker and builder etc to gain the expertise needed.
‘The nurses handed over their entire collection of about £1,800 to the central fund for a local hospice and John soon obtained charity status for us, so that we could legitimately continue collecting.
‘He even persuaded the next lord mayor, Ken Hale, to have Rowans Hospice as his main charity of the year. Lots of money was then raised and the appeal took off.’
Pivotal in this groundswell of support and fundraising, from that date to now, was the lady mayoress, Louisa Taylor, who has continued throughout her life to rally community support for the building and the ongoing funding of our community hospice.
From founding the first community support group to motivating many people to donate, fundraise and volunteer for the hospice, Louisa said the whole experience was great fun. But it had to be, as they all had to work tirelessly to raise the money, organising coffee mornings and afternoons, carol concerts, fetes, taking part in carnivals, shaking buckets in Safeway for three hours each, visiting old people’s homes and churches.
However what is fantastic, is she knows that all this hard work was worth it.
As Louisa commented recently: ‘The fact we have Rowans is such a fantastic community achievement, as everyone has played their part either through volunteering, fundraising and donating both to build the hospice and keep it running.
‘What kept me and keeps my daughter, June, who is also an ardent supporter of the hospice, going is knowing what is was like before, when there was nothing. Families and patients didn’t have a choice or the support needed.
‘Seeing family faces when they walk through the door of the hospice, you can see the complete relief. The opportunity to come and stay in a peaceful, tranquil setting with expert advice on hand - that is why I devoted my life to supporting our community hospice.’