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A pledge for the future

A pioneering hospice has celebrated a landmark in its history with a pledge to continue its innovative work for generations to come.

Key figures in the establishment and development of St Teresa’s Hospice were taken on a whirlwind tour of the past, present and future of a unique facility that has served Darlington, South West Durham and North Yorkshire for three decades.

Special guest of honour was Yvonne Rowe, the lady who sparked a powerful movement that has cared for those with life limiting illnesses and shattered taboos surrounding death and dying.

Her open letter to the community, sent to The Evening Despatch, The Northern Echo and the Darlington and Stockton Times, prompted a groundswell of support that founded St Teresa’s Hospice.

“I still find it hard to believe the impact my letter had,” said Mrs Rowe. “I thought we would have to fight for every penny and I would not see it in my lifetime.”

But editor of The Northern Echo Peter Barron told around 60 guests at a celebration event: “I don’t think a letter has ever been published that has made such a difference to people’s lives. It led to something incredible that has changed the world for the people of this community.”

Darlington’s mayor Tom Nutt hosted the special event for people who had a personal connection to St Teresa's Hospice, including volunteers, patients, carers and companies.

Hospice chief executive Jane Bradshaw read Yvonne’s personal account of the motivation behind the letter, prompted by the plight of her close friend Mary Hester who was seriously ill at the time.

The cause was also taken up instantly by Lillian Elliott, who called for the public meeting and Tony Morris, who became the first volunteer chairman.

The celebration heard of the sterling work carried out by the hospice and its army of 400 volunteers.

Hospice chairman and retired GP Harry Byrne said: “I remember the time before the hospice when people spent their last days of life in a side room of the hospital and relatives received very little in the way of support.”

Hospice at Home team leader Helen Wrigley spoke of the development of the service while head of nursing Alison Marshall described how the day services gave patients greater choice on their own care.

Nurse consultant Sheila Dawson added: “We don’t just deal with end of life care we can prevent premature dying. Often patients are discharged and can enjoy a better quality of life at home.”

Bereavement worker Ben Bourne told the audience about the work with families and children in particular while director of clinical services Victoria Ashley outlined the many innovations around palliative care, including the recently approved pilot of the Rapid Response Service, a 24 hour a day initiative providing people with help within the hour.

Guests heard from hospice president Alasdair MacConachie who described the organisation as “The most fulfilling challenge of my life”.

Simon Hawkins, of Urban & Civic, the development company behind Darlington's new Feethams leisure complex, told guests why his company had adopted the hospice as its charity and Nordic Focus Training Group executive director Peter Robinson spoke of how the hospice had helped his mother.

Mrs Bradshaw then outlined the future including the soon-to-be opened £1.2m 10-bed inpatient unit. She said: “We got the very best people, Niven Architects, to design it and it will be just as welcoming as the Woodlands.

“But what won’t change will be the level of expertise on offer. The hospice is the embodiment of people helping other people and we are going to need help in the future, continued help for our patients.”