I know of St Peter & St James Hospice, I visit their charity shop in Lewes regularly, and my choir, Angels With Attitude, fundraise for them, but I’d never been to visit the actual hospice, located in a beautiful spot in Chailey Common.
I go along on a sunny autumn day, arriving down a woodland track, where I immediately spot the two resident donkeys. I’ve come to interview Pippa Jones, Head of Supportive Care. She’s very welcoming and gives me a quick tour of the excellent facilities. It seems a special place with a lovely atmosphere. Everyone I meet is friendly, including the two resident black and white rescue cats, Jasper (pictured below) and Willow.
I discover that St Peter & St James Hospice employs 150 staff (including their paid charity shop staff) as well as 400 volunteers. Only 13% of its funding comes from the government, which means 87% comes from donations and their retail services.
They currently have eight beds and are hoping to expand. They also have a team of Community Nurses. The Hospice supports over 1000 people per year who are affected by life-limiting conditions, including patients and those close to them.
Their Living Well programme offers a broad range of drop-in sessions, such as art, relaxation and mindfulness. A music group is planned. They also have a variety of services, including counselling and complementary therapies.
‘Being welcoming and inclusive really matters to us.’ Pippa tells me. ‘When people get a diagnosis of a life-limiting illness, it can be a lonely, scary place. You can lose your place in the world; your job, friendship group, hobbies, even your perception of yourself may change and where you felt secure before may not feel so comforting. Here you accepted for who you are. We are here to make your quality of life better, not only your death.’
Pippa lives in Burgess Hill and worked in the NHS for 25 years where she was a a palliative Care OT, before managing teams.
‘I found this job when I wasn’t really looking, and it’s wonderful, supporting people, their families and those who care for them.’
I ask what she enjoys most about her job: ‘I like being able to make a difference. Also supporting the staff team to achieve such a high level of care and service to people when they really need it.’
What qualities does she needs to do her work? ‘Compassion, integrity, good communication skills. I think working in palliative care attracts a certain kind of person. I’ve worked with lots of different teams, and there’s a real sense of commitment and dedication in all of them.
What can be the most difficult aspect of your work, I ask? ‘There is a lot to do in a small amount of time. People are at a challenging stage of their life so there is a level of distress. It’s important to have good boundaries, to support people absolutely, but not to carry that with you all the time. You couldn’t do the work if you did that.
‘Some people come with significant additional challenges. Those might include emotional or financial issues. We’re here to do our best to help with all of them.’
My last question is to ask how she relaxes. ‘By walking my dogs on the South Downs, time with family and friends, or staying at home and chilling. And I’m also Chair of my local Theatre Club.’
Find out more about services offered by St Peter & St James Hospice, as well as how to volunteer or support their fundraising efforts; https://stpjhospice.org/