As Nigel Browne finally hangs up his St Teresa’s Hospice collection boxes after three and a half decades he urged the community to step up at one of the most challenging times in its history.
“I must urge everyone to support St Teresa’s Hospice during these difficult financial times,” said the 75-year-old, of Darlington, who has raised tens of thousands of pounds over the years.
“It is an absolutely fantastic place, full of beautiful people doing an amazing job and the in-patient unit is incredible.”
But St Teresa’s Hospice is facing its toughest financial challenge yet as the pandemic decimates its ability to fundraise with countless events cancelled or postponed and its chain of charity shops closed by lockdown restrictions.
At the same time the hospice continues to operate needing £3m a year to provide free, in-patient and community care for people living with life-limiting illnesses and vital Family Support and counselling for patients and their families in Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire.
An emergency appeal continues to operate and donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/campaign/hugtostts.
Nigel was one of the first to respond to an appeal for a hospice launched by Yvonne Rowe with the help of The Northern Echo, Darlington and Stockton Times, and Evening Despatch.
“I remember the first meeting was chock-a-block and we became good friends with Yvonne,” he said. “In 1986 I organised my first sponsored walk with a cousin and two policemen friends to celebrate my 40th birthday, about 13 miles to Bishopton and Great Stainton, which raised about £500.
“The next one was in Swaledale, about 15 miles, which raised more than £1,000. After that I took on collection boxes and got them up to around 50 in Teesdale alone. Even the one in our hall raised about £2,500 over the years.”
Nigel’s first wife Liz died on Christmas night nine days after giving birth to their son. “As a result I later volunteered to be part of the hospice’s bereavement team,” he said.
Then after working in security he was made redundant by Rothmans and was asked by the hospice to organise a night security and porter service at St Teresa’s, which he did for six years.
“I really enjoyed it and it was a privilege to work there with so many nice patients, families and dedicated staff,” he said. “I wish I could have done it all my life.
“Some people came in at 3am and I made sure to meet and greet them and look after their needs. I remember one lady asking for a G&T so I went and got one, served it to her on a tray and said ‘there you are madam’. She told me it was the best G&T she’d had in her life – sadly, she died about two hours later.
“Another lady asked to see me because she wanted to say goodbye. I wished her a safe journey and she died shortly after. I was always there for the patients and families and mainly would just listen.”
After retiring in 2010 Nigel continued to volunteer raising thousands of pounds through collection boxes, fairs, runs, street collections, an Elvis night and cake stalls. At one event his second wife Wendy baked 100 cakes and instead of receiving presents for their ruby wedding anniversary, they asked for donations, raising £405.
Always quick to help, his efforts were recognised in 2015 when he was made an honorary life member at the annual general meeting.
St Teresa’s Hospice chief executive Jane Bradshaw said: “Nigel’s dedication and commitment to the hospice has been unwavering. He has brought so much comfort to patients and their families over the years, many in their darkest hours and raised a phenomenal amount of money.
“His service has been exemplary and humbling and we can’t thank him enough. Even as he retires he is still trying to help us with his heartfelt appeal for donations. As an honorary life member of our charity, which is an accolade awarded for outstanding service, I’m delighted to say that his association with St Teresa’s will continue for many years to come.”