ARMED with just £50 but a zeal matched to their momentous task, a motley crew set out to transfigure end-of-life care in Swindon.
More than 30 years on, the modest Prospect Foundation, initially fronted by two nurses, has developed beyond recognition and now serves nearly 2,000 patients each year in their homes, at its hospice’s day service and in-patient unit as well as the Great Western Hospital.
In 1979, doctor Campbell Drysdale, a pathologist at Princess Margaret Hospital, convinced of the critical need for hospice care in the region enlisted the help of Rev Derryck Evans, whose tenacity and ‘upper starter’ attitude were legendary, to carry his plan forward.
To complete his team, he reached out to former nurse Felicity Beard who did not have to be asked twice to join the venture.
“Hospices were rare,” said Felicity, 71, of Old Town.
“They came to see me and asked if I could help. We sat in the lounge and discussed it and went through endless cups of tea. We did a lot of research but we had no idea what we were getting into.”
The ambitious project was slow to garner support from the community and hit a barrage of opposition from GPs and health professionals.
“They thought the hospice would be a very gloomy place where people went to die,” she added. “Only those of us interested in end-of-life care knew what it would really be like. We had a clear vision in our minds. This was our dream.
“We went to everybody we could think of in the town. Eventually two or three doctors were supportive.”
After gathering moderate support from local groups and with £50 in the bank, they recruited two nurses and began assisting a handful of patients and their families and carers in Swindon.
“Very quickly doctors realised we were on to something,” said Felicity. “There was a real need for a hospice in Swindon. We employed a secretary to deal with the admin and advertised for nurses. They went into patients’ homes and helped with their care. It was very new, people had to get used to us. They went in with basic equipment to start with.”
Before long the service was in such demand that the fledgling Prospect Foundation moved out of the front rooms of Felicity, Rev Evans and Dr Drysdale and into its very own modest office in Milton Road by 1980.
“Eventually people heard about the good work we were doing and it grew quite quickly. We ran from Milton Road for a couple of years and then moved to Church Place, which was bigger, and we started receiving grants.
“There was a huge demand – we never had any idea of how big it would be.”
By the mid-80s, the charity had its own band of trained volunteers, led by the dedicated Jean Dean. Its groundbreaking work in the field of health did not go unnoticed for long and the charity’s still audacious work was soon featured on Radio 4.
In the late 1980s, acutely aware of the need for a permanent in-patient unit alongside home care, the team partnered with Victoria Hospital in Old Town, which offered three and then six beds to Prospect.
Continually expanding, it now caters to around 2,000 patients annually.
The journey was deemed fraught from the start by nearly all, but worth every battle, setback and the initial adversity.
“If we could have designed the hospice from the start, what it would be like, this is what we would have designed,” said Felicity. “This was our vision.
“But we didn’t expect it to ever grow this big. Everybody uses it now. When we started it people could not get support.
“There was no specific care for people at the end of their life and their carers couldn’t cope. It is needed today for the same reasons that it was in the beginning.”
Prospect chief executive Angela Jordan said: “Since it was founded 34 years ago, the scale and scope of the work of Prospect Hospice has changed enormously.
“From the days when just two nurses would visit patients in their homes, we have grown to the extent that, this year, we will have cared for more than 2,000 patients, at the hospice, in their homes, in care homes and at the Great Western Hospital.
“Without the support of the community, through their fundraising for us and through giving their time and skills as volunteers, we just would not be able to achieve all that we can for patients and their families.”
How to get involved
- By cheque: With the donation form in today's Adver
- By card: Online through the donate now button, www.prospect-hospice.net
- In cash: Prospect Hospice reception in Wroughton, Prospect Hospice retail shops or the Swindon Advertiser office
- Prospect Hospice can also take card donations over the phone – contact the fundraising team on 01793 816161
- Taking part in an event for Prospect? Why not donate through our appeal – let us know via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01793 501806.