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Giles Tomsett at STCH (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Pubished on 1st December 2023

Work on the new 19.5m St Catherine’s Hospice at Pease Pottage has been completed. 

 Barnes Construction presented a ceremonial key to the charity on Thursday 23 November, symbolising the end of construction and the start of a new home for the charity, which has until now been located at Malthouse Road in Crawley. AAH attended the presentation and spoke to Giles Tomsett (Chief Executive), Patricia Brayden (Medical Director), Elly Powis (People and Site Services Director) and Bill McCusker (who attends the hospice for Outpatient therapy) at the dawn of a new era for St Catherine’s… 

Giles: The need for a local hospice was first identified more than 40 years ago. Hospices were being established across the UK, recognising the need for improved end-of-life care. The early discussions and fundraisers were held in Horsham and the campaign was well supported in Crawley too, where the hospice was eventually built when Sir Norman Longley donated land on Malthouse Road. The Queen Mother laid the foundation stone in November 1982 and St Catherine’s has served the community for 40 years. However, there were constraints with the 1.8-acre site, as there was little room to develop and parking became increasingly difficult as the range of services expanded. Eventually, we had to find a location for a new home. 

Patricia: When I first joined St Catherine’s in 1999, the vast majority of people referred to the hospice had terminal cancer. While a little over half the people we treat today have cancer, we also treat people with other conditions, including organ failure. Advances in cancer treatment have saved many lives and helped those with incurable cancer live longer with the disease. Life expectancy has therefore increased, with people living with a number of different diseases that require treatment, which adds more demand on healthcare services. At St Catherine’s, we certainly interact with medical specialists in a way we didn’t used to, in order to provide the best care possible for everyone. When you couple this with the population growth and the expansion of our catchment area across Sussex and into Surrey, there was a clear need for a bigger and more modern facility.  

Giles: We were fortunate in that – once again – a local businessman stepped forward to provide land. Bill Bridges donated 5-acres in Pease Pottage on which to build a new hospice. It is now located on Grace Holland Avenue, in memory of his mother, who was cared for at St Catherine’s. As well as this connection to the hospice, a close friend of Bill’s was one of our volunteer drivers and helped transport patients to therapy classes and treatments. Bill could easily have sold all his land for housing development, so to gift us five acres in a location close to the M23 and Gatwick Airport was a remarkable gesture. We were further boosted by local fundraising and a £6m donation, bequeathed in the will of Horsham resident John Shemeld. 

 Elly: Although his contribution is extraordinary, Bill’s story is not unusual, as most of our 250 staff and 800 volunteers have known somebody who has experienced and benefited from the care St Catherine’s provides. My mum died of lung cancer six years ago, aged just 63. She went to hospital and returned home, but her symptoms worsened. After a while, it became too much for our family to cope with, so we contacted St Catherine’s and the care they gave us was remarkable. It was as if they had wrapped their arms around us until mum passed away, only 12 weeks after her diagnosis. I used to sit at her bedside and watch the staff in awe. I worked as an HR Director for a law firm at the time, but when I saw a similar vacancy come up at the hospice, I applied immediately as I wanted to be a part of something special. I felt that if I could give someone facing end of life care just a fraction of the support St Catherine’s had given my family, it would be worthwhile. 

Patricia: We have a large in-house team of medical experts, comprising doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers and wellbeing coordinators. We also have trainee doctors and the experience they gain here and the knowledge of palliative medicine that comes with it will be of huge benefit to them, whatever field of healthcare or medicine they pursue in their career. What many people don’t know is the support we provide in the community. Some people never stay in the wards and instead our team visit them in their own homes. Home care services will continue to be an important part of what we offer, as some people prefer to receive palliative care at home. However, this new site does provide us with a 21st-century clinical facility that is welcoming in a way that a hospital ward isn’t.

Giles: We laid the foundation stone in November 2022, 40 years after the ceremony had taken place at the Malthouse Road site. The new hospice was designed by Building Ideas and LSI Architects and built by Barnes Construction, who have done an amazing job. Throughout the project, we worked in partnership with developers Thakeham and Abri, as they have built a café and community space adjacent to the hospice at the heart of the Woodgate estate. These facilities will be run by our volunteers, to be enjoyed not only by patients, staff and volunteers at St Catherine’s, but the entire community, with the profits invested back into patient care.

Patricia: There are things that the new site offers that the old site couldn’t. Every person staying at the hospice will have an ensuite with shower, and some rooms also have a small sitting room so that families can be close to loved ones. The rooms also have modernised medical equipment such as in-built oxygen units and hoisting equipment, and doors that open up to the garden. Even if someone is unable to walk, they can take in the fresh air on a bed or recliner chair. It is a better experience for visitors too, with more parking and family rooms too. These provide opportunities to talk to others going through a similar experience and such interactions can be beneficial. 

 Giles: We also have a hoisted bath, so if someone is struggling with mobility, they can still bathe without the discomfort of being physically lifted. Dignity is important and such facilities help us give people the best life possible in the time they have remaining. We also have much-improved facilities for those who are being cared for in the community, including a wellbeing centre, counselling rooms, music and art therapy sessions and an occupational therapy gym, helping people stay independent for as long as possible. 

Bill: I have been living with cancer on and off for about 15 years, but 18 months ago I developed a tumour which caused numbness down my right arm, to the extent that I could no longer use it. As a keen golfer, I was very upset as I couldn’t join my friends on the course. Somebody told me that St Catherine’s had therapists who might be able to help. I knew of the hospice as I used to be in a golf society that fundraised for the charity, but I didn’t know it offered therapy. One of the therapists visited me at home and gave me some hand movement exercises to work on, and later I was invited to attend further therapy in the gym. I was a bit embarrassed as two therapists were giving all this support just to me! The staff and volunteers at the hospice have been brilliant and now I’m delighted to say I can swing a club again. I can’t claim that I’m shooting as low as I used to, but I’m out on the course and the lads give me a fair handicap! 

Elly: The efforts of our volunteers cannot be overstated. We have more than 800 and absolutely couldn’t do what we do without them. Some drive for us, some wheel the drinks trolley around or wash up in the kitchen. Some perform administrative tasks, or help organise fundraising events like the Midnight Walk, while others carry out street collections or work in one of our 14 charity shops across Sussex and Surrey. That need for support never ends, as only 25% of our funding comes directly from the NHS. Everything else is funded by donations and every penny counts.

Giles: We have to raise £9m a year through public donations just to continue what we are doing. Love and support from the community has got us to where we are now, and we’re going to need more of it than ever to enable us to pass on that love and support for people receiving end of life care. What greater cause can there be than that?  

Further information: 

To donate to St Catherine’s, visit stch.org.uk

WORDS: Ben Morris / PHOTOS: Alan Wright