Hospice offers hope for other charities in tough times
When St Michael’s Hospice set out a five-year plan in 2007 to double the number of patients it could care for and boost its army of volunteers, no-one had heard of the credit crunch.
Back then, house prices were rising, unemployment was falling and the economy was growing at an annual rate of three per cent. By the end of the following year, the good times were officially over and the impact was being felt not just by big business.
Charities quickly reported a fall in donations and as a result of the property crash, the legacies many relied on plummeted in value. In the years since, just keeping afloat has been a struggle and many had to put plans for expansion on hold.
Not at St Michael’s, the hospice set in picturesque grounds overlooking the Crimple Valley viaduct in Harrogate. Instead of going back to the drawing board, the staff ploughed on and have just announced they have achieved every single one of their ambitions almost 18 months ahead of schedule. For the staff, the success is a personal pride, but they also know it might give hope to other organisations looking to improve their services.
“In 2007 we had the capacity to care for 1,200 patients, but we knew the demand was much greater and it wasn’t just about creating space for extra beds,” says hospice chief executive Tony Collins. “It was about adding new services and expanding our ability to look after people in their own homes. It was about reaching out to as many people as we possibly could. We had started to attract patients with more complex needs and we knew that if we were going to give them the care they needed and deserved we had to adapt.
“In the background there was always the nagging statistic that the majority of people who express a wish to die at home, don’t. As a result of the work we have done we can now offer a greater range of both day treatments in the hospice and have the ability to send our specialist teams of physiotherapists and social workers to see more people in their own homes.” Crucial to the plan was the launch of the bereavement service Just B, which supports adults and children following the death of a loved one, whether they have previously been in contact with the hospice or not.
“Over the years we have built up a great deal of expertise and it seemed right that we should put it to good use.
“It was about giving people access to face-to- face counselling or just someone on the other end of the phone they can talk to when times are tough.
“The death of someone isn’t the end, it’s just the start of a long process of grieving.”
It costs £3.9m a year to keep St Michael’s running and more than 80 per cent of the money comes from gifts left in wills, fundraising efforts and individual donations.
In order to fund the expansion of services, the hospice opened a number of new charity shops, successfully targeted corporate donors and built on its already solid group of volunteers.
One of them is Sandra Gilbert, who began helping out at the hospice following the death of her father three years ago.
“Even though we went through a terrible time when my father died, I was always amazed at just what a peaceful, happy place St Michael’s was. People have images of hospices being these terribly depressing places, but there we also felt a sense of hope.
Sandra, who runs an insurance business with her husband in Harrogate, now volunteers in one of the hospice shops and also helps out in the fundraising office. “I’m in a very fortunate position in that I have the time to spend doing volunteer work, but what I have learnt over the last three years is that every little helps.
“Our business is what pays the bills, but being part of something where everyone shares the same goals and where you really see the difference you can make is incredible.”
With the five-year strategy up and running, St Michael’s has already drafted up a new list of future ambitions.
“What we have achieved is remarkable, particularly when you look at just how tough the last few years have been,” adds Tony.
“However, this hasn’t been about a few people sat behind a computer crunching numbers, it has been about the whole community.
“Without the tremendous support we have, not just in Harrogate, but across the surrounding area, we wouldn’t have been able to move forward so quickly and every single one of those who have helped deserves a massive thanks.”