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Gill Edmonds

St Nicholas Hospice Care wouldn’t be the place it is today if it weren’t for the caring support and compassionate empathy of its staff and volunteers.

A car boot full of flowers

Around 20 years ago, Gill Edmonds had a friend who was a florist and was working at the Bury St Edmunds branch of Waitrose in the flower department. Waitrose would fund and arrange for flowers to be sent to the Hospice and Gill’s friend was sent there to decorate it with them.

“She would go to the Hospice, around once a month as other ladies would do this sort of work too, with a [car] boot full of flowers and spend the afternoon or the morning arranging them. It was her that first said to me ‘Oh Gill, it’s such a lovely place!’ and she spoke to one of the therapists and said ‘You ought to go and have a look and apply.’ And I did and that was it!”

“It’s like being somebody’s hairdresser, patients will tell you things that they wouldn’t tell anyone else.”

Gill formerly worked in London as a physiotherapist and trained up as a holistic therapist when she moved to East Anglia. She would provide massage, reflexology and Reiki therapies to patients at the Hospice and her observations on this indicate how crucial our holistic therapy services are.

“For some people, the most important thing is having somebody to yourself for an hour. You know, whether they’re massaging you, or they’re not even touching you in Reiki, or just doing your feet with reflexology. It’s just you and them in the room. You can cry, you can talk, you can say nothing, and you can go to sleep…it’s a time that’s just for you and I think that can be quite special.”

“It’s a bit like being somebody’s hairdresser…they’ll tell you things that they won’t tell anyone else and then, with their permission, you can perhaps get them help in other directions. You could pick up something they told you, and they might think there’s no answer for, and they just want to get it off their chest…but through some other part of the organisation, or you could refer them to another department” to help them out.

“You could introduce to them someone else who could understand what they were going through.”

When describing the purpose of the Day Care Centre at the Hospice, Gill says that the patients “were there because they had problems. They could talk to each other. And so, we would encourage them to sit down with someone else, when they weren’t having treatments done, while having a cup of tea and a biscuit. They could talk to someone else who has got a similar condition; or a relative in a similar problem; because we didn’t just have the patients but also their carers…and we’d also have bereaved people who would join in. You could introduce to them someone else who could understand what they were going through, even if you didn’t yourself…I think the Wellbeing Days, amongst the other things that happened on the Orchard Ward, were very beneficial.”

“It’s given me lots of new friends and lots of new contacts.”

Besides the purpose of doing good deeds, there are other good benefits to volunteering, especially at St. Nic’s. Gill says she has enjoyed so much social interaction through all the events she has volunteered in.

“I got very friendly with some of the ladies who worked on the Orchard Ward in the Day Care Centre. We still meet up for coffee every month or so. I was fairly new to the area [when starting to volunteer here] and it’s given me lots of new friends and lots of new contacts.”

“I really got involved, and I started helping at fundraising events. In those days, we used to have an annual fete every year and I used to help with that. Gradually, over the years, I got to know more people and I got involved in quite a lot of the fundraising events and I still go and help. I even volunteered to help with registration at the Festive Fun Run we had over the weekend and I have volunteered at previous Girls Night Out events too. I also helped with the registration for the 10K run a few months back as well.”

“Nobody is telling you to ‘be quiet’ or ‘sshh’.”

As mentioned earlier, prior to moving to Bury St Edmunds, Gill trained and worked as a physiotherapist across several hospitals and hospices in London. She trained up as a holistic therapist after moving to East Anglia. So, when she first came to St Nic’s, she was pleasantly surprised.

“I thought: ‘Oh, this feels like a little hotel. I went into the ward and would hear people laughing and see people’s dogs running around and children or grandchildren bouncing on the end of the bed. You walk through Bradbury Green, which is the communal area between the Ward and the Day Care Centre, which is where meals are served to staff and visitors, and you can hear uproarious laughter! Nobody is telling you to ‘be quiet’ or ‘sshh’. In the time that I was working on the Ward, we’ve had two or three weddings for patients who were going to pass away very soon but wanted to marry their partner. We’ve had birthday parties, balloons and cakes and it’s all really nice.”

“It gave the carer a day off.”

Due to the recent global pandemic where most of the world was in a state of complete lockdown, the Day Care Centre at St Nic’s had to be closed too. Gill remembers it fondly and felt it had many benefits, one of which was for the caregivers, or the carers of the patients at the Hospice, to be able to have to some time off from their caregiving duties.

In her view, the Day Care Centre “gave the carer, the husband or the wife [of the patient] a day off. They [the patients] could have their hair done, or just have a chat, or have some lunch.” She would like to see it come back “even if it’s just one day a month.” “We had a physiotherapist, called Angela, who would run all sorts of useful programmes, such as ‘Positive Living’ and helping people to breathe better.’ We would also have coffee mornings for anyone who just wanted to come for a little chat and a coffee.”

“One day, you’re not going to be able to help and you’d hope that somebody might help you.”

“My partner and I started to volunteer after we both retired because we both felt it was nice to help when we could and, one day, you’re not going to be able to help and you’d hope that somebody might help you.”

Gill and her partner have spent much of their retirement years volunteering at St. Nic’s. Gill’s partner would drive to pick up patients from their homes to drop them off to the Day Care Centre and then take them home at the end of the day.

She feels that “it’s hard to find enough volunteers these days. My partner and I felt that it was nice to help when we could.” Apart from doing a good deed, she found the entire experience to be “very enjoyable,” and she describes the Hospice to be “a safe and caring space.”

Do you have a story about your connection with St Nicholas Hospice Care?

In our 40th year celebration, we want to highlight the many contributions in our Hospice’s history.

We’re aiming to proudly feature 40 faces across the year, could you be someone who has a story to share?

If you are someone who has a fond memory to share, you can do so here.