Back in the heatwave of 1976, Dr Richard Miller was inspired by a visit to St Barnabas Hospice in Worthing to build a similar facility for Herefordshire. Dr Miller said, ‘Back then, people were mostly looked after in hospital or at home. There was little understanding of symptom control. People often died in pain, screened off in the corner. I, along with other health care professionals, found this very difficult to deal with.’
Richard soon joined forces with other like-minded people to undertake the challenge of raising £700,000 to build a Hospice for Herefordshire. One of those pioneers and co-founders was Dr Jeffrey Kramer: ‘I remember all of us thinking challenges like this are done on faith. It was a pure belief in the project being the right thing to do; that gave us the will to go on. Freda Pearce led the team of fundraisers; she had the cheek of the devil and was a very powerful person. She believed nothing was impossible and through sheer dedication and love for our fellow men and women, we built the Hospice. I quite honestly believe you can still feel the love when you walk in. There’s something very special about our building.’
Since opening in 1984, St Michael’s Hospice has been providing the highest quality care, free of charge, to the local community. The same community has worked tirelessly to generate the funds needed to make all the care possible.
Freda Pearce Foundation
Richard Miller approached Tricia Hales, Chairman of the Herefordshire Amateur Rafters, in 1980 and asked if the organisation would help raise funds to pay for a ward for the proposed new Hospice. They raised just over £10,000 that year and £15,000 the next. In 1981 Tricia joined the Freda Pearce Foundation sitting on the Executive Committee and Fundraising Group until she helped to found ‘The Freda Pearce League of Friends’ in November 1985. Since then the ‘League of Friends’ has raised approaching £40,000 for the Hospice.
The Eric Baylis Nurses Fund for St Michael’s Hospice
Friends Dorothy Stainton, Arthur and Freda Woodward, Betty and Jack Swaithes and Eric Baylis got together to hold a whist drive in August 1985 to help raise funds for the new Hospice. They raised £4,260 in the first year.
Following an article in the Hereford Times that said that the Hospice was having problems financing nurses, the group set up a standing order to give £300 a month to help pay for a Hospice nurse. Currently, the Eric Baylis Nurses Fund donates by direct debit £1,250 per month to the Hospice (specifically towards a nurse’s salary). This monthly contribution is guaranteed for three years in advance and the charity maintains a capital sum of at least £45,000 to meet this guarantee.
Thus, should fundraising close at a future date, the Hospice management will have at least three years in which to replace this significant income. Future plans are ambitious. Every effort is to be made to increase the present capital fund of more than £70,000, to £350,000. Should such an increase be achieved, it will enable the existing three years guarantee to be extended to ‘indefinitely’.
St Michael’s opens its doors
St Michael’s admitted its first patient on 31st October 1984, and was officially opened by Princess Alexandra in May 1985.
‘Although only five years had elapsed between first meeting Freda and the Hospice opening, it had been far from plain sailing. Apart from the daunting task of raising the money to build and run the Hospice, we initially encountered considerable opposition from several influential people. A nationally known, and highly respected, member of the hospice movement tried very hard to persuade us to start with just a Home Care facility. I am convinced that, had we done this, Herefordshire would still be waiting for its hospice to be built, as has happened in a neighbouring district. Our determination to have an inpatient unit never wavered.
‘Sadly, the seemingly indomitable Freda did not live to see the Hospice built. She died in the summer of 1983, yet had still been enlisting the support of her fellow patients in hospital a few days before. Special permission was given for her to be buried near the Hospice, in the grounds of the convent.’
(picture: Richard Miller with Princess Alexandra at the opening of the Hospice, 1985)
Sunflower Appeal for Day Hospice
For the first ten years, St Michael’s ran a Day Hospice in a room on the ground floor. In the mid 1990s it became apparent that bigger and better facilities were needed.
In March 1996, when John Caiger of the then Development Trust asked Elizabeth Drew if she would chair an appeal to raise funds to build the new Day Hospice, she said, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly do it – no one knows me, I’ve never done anything like this before…’ In less than 18 months, Elizabeth, together with James Greenfield, the Appeal Co-ordinator, Lady Dunne the Appeal’s President, Mrs Sally Clive, the Appeal’s Vice President, and a dedicated committee of 12, raised £600,000 and saw the project completed.
A purpose-built, three storey Day Hospice, including a suite of rooms for offices and meetings, was built onto the existing building. Elizabeth remembers the launch vividly: ‘It was held in College Hall, Hereford Cathedral on 14th June 1996, a beautiful, sunny day. We already had nearly £200,000 in the kitty and were thrilled when Viscount Portman surprised us all with a donation of £35,000.’ Richard Miller cut the first sod in August 1996 and the Day Hospice was completed and in use by June 1997. On 29th July 1997 Princess Alexandra officially opened it.
The success of the Sunflower Appeal has meant that up to 70 people plus their families and friends were cared for, monitored and given symptom control. Since the redevelopment in 2016, the Hospice is now aiming to double that figure. To many, the Day Hospice is a lifeline that means that they can stay in their own homes for longer. Attending Day Hospice is also a social occasion filled with fun, laughter and activities. Hazel Brooke, Day Hospice Sister, said, ‘People never want to come here, and then they never want to leave.’