Wigan and Leigh Hospice has been caring for local people for over 35 years.
It all began in 1977 when a Shevington GP was caring for an elderly male patient who died alone in the night. The doctor decided that a team of night-sitters could bring great comfort to those approaching the end of their lives.
The doctor discussed this idea both with his friends and with the Rotary Club of Wigan and over the next couple of years a plan emerged to create a local hospice. A steering committee was formed in 1978 and 450 people attended the inaugural meeting. The estimated cost of a hospice, including land, was in the region of £600,000. A 'Friends of the Hospice' group was formed to help raise funds.
The first Hospice building
In 1981, a former St James' vicarage at Poolstock was purchased. This was a large Victorian building, set in one acre of land, with pleasant views over what is known locally as 'the flash' - a large man-made lake. Although local support had allowed the building to be purchased, it would take more support and time to convert the building into a hospice.
Our first staff
Our first domiciliary nurse and support staff were appointed in 1981 and were based at St Barnabas Church Hall in Marsh Green. We were unusual in having a community nursing service even before the hospice Inpatient Unit was opened. Then, as now, providing care at home was central to our purpose. During 1982, the vicarage at Poolstock was modified to provide an Inpatient Unit and other facilities. Later extensions would provide a day hospice room and education department.
The hospice opens
Our first matron was appointed in 1983, along with other staff, when the building was nearly complete. The hospice opened its doors in August 1983 with just five beds which were funded totally from voluntary contributions. It was not until two months after the opening that the local health authority agreed to provide funding towards the second five registered beds and in January 1984 the size of the Inpatient Unit was increased to ten beds, then 12 beds by February 1986.
The hospice was officially opened by the Countess of Westmorland, President of the National Society for Cancer Relief, on the 5th December 1984.
Expanding the hospice
During the next few years, the needs of the local population meant that the hospice began to outgrow its building and the vision of a new purpose-built hospice started to emerge. The ideal site was found in Hindley geographically central to the area served by the hospice.
During the planning stage many hospices were visited throughout the country to collect ideas and to help us to design a building that would be ideally suited to our patients and their care.
A capital appeal was launched in 1994 by HRH the Duchess of York. This raised £1 million towards the new-build project. However, it soon became apparent that it would be extremely difficult to raise the whole of the original estimated building costs of £2 million within an acceptable timescale. This was partly because we still needed to raise £600,000 each year to maintain the services at Poolstock. In effect, we were trying to fund two hospices at once. Ultimately, the total cost of the new hospice was £2.6 million which was financed in part by a mortgage of £1.6 million.
A new hospice
In December 1997, the new purpose-built hospice opened its doors. It featured a range of modern facilities including the Inpatient Unit; a large day hospice; complementary therapy suites and counselling rooms.
Developing our facilities and services
In April 2007, the hospice welcomed HRH the Duchess of Gloucester to officially open the newly completed annex and day hospice garden room. This project cost around £550,000 with £300,000 coming from the Big Lottery Fund, £60,000 from the local Primary Care Trust and £55,000 from the Mayor's Charity Appeal for 2006. The annex houses improved education, library, offices and e-learning facilities. It also created space in the main hospice for the development of clinical services. The beautiful day hospice garden room looks out onto a private garden area for our patients to enjoy.
In 2007, a further build project commenced with funding from the Department of Health's Dignity in Care scheme. This work created more single rooms for our patients, a creative arts therapy centre, an overnight stay room for families and a conservatory-style lounge overlooking the hospice's gardens. During the same year outpatient clinics began at the hospice and we launched our 24-hour telephone advice line.
In 2009 our Hospice Nurse Specialist service began caring for patients seven days a week.
In 2011 we employed a Nursing Home Educator in order that the hospice could share our specialist knowledge of end of life care for the benefit of people with a life-limiting illness who may not come into contact with the hospice. This is also when our quarterly remembrance evenings began.
In 2012 we opened two more beds on the Inpatient Unit bringing the total to 14 beds.
The following year we launched our Hospice In Your Home service to bring even more hospice-led care into the community. This service provides hands-on care in people's homes giving carers a time to rest and provides overnight stays with the aim of enabling the patient to remain at home at the end of life and to prevent unnecessary admissions into hospital.
In 2014 the hospice opened the Woodview Centre. The brief was to create a modern eco-friendly building within a peaceful and therapeutic environment. The building boasts a number of sustainable features including solar panels and under floor heating. Rainwater collected on the roof refreshes the pond to the rear of the Woodview Centre and increases biodiversity at the site which is already home to a variety of wildlife. The Centre houses the community nursing teams, complementary therapy and counselling rooms, outpatient clinics, education services and meeting rooms. The official opening was performed by HRH the Earl of Wessex in June 2014.
In 2015 our Hospice In Your Care Home team launched providing education and training in end of life care to staff in care settings including nursing and residential homes.
Refurbishment of the Inpatient Unit
In 2017 a major modernisation project began to improve the facilities in the main hospice building which by now was 20 years old. This included a refreshed reception area, new café open 24/7, a separate entrance for patients arriving on the Inpatient Unit and major work to the Inpatient Unit.
This included the creation of an open nurses reception, a new extension housing a bariatric room, wet room, clinic room and storage and upgrades to all patient bedrooms.
Throughout the work, dementia-friendly principles were adopted to make the building more accessible, welcoming and safe for patients and visitors alike. Work was also carried out to improve our extensive gardens.
The project completed in June 2018.
The pandemic hit the hospice hard in 2020 and the charity continues to feel the effects.
Our staff are tired and we are still, in the early days of 2022, unable to function as we would like. Visiting is limited, our staff who can are working from home and our income has not recovered.
All of our shops were forced to close, our lottery canvassers stopped going door-to-door and events organised by us, and those organised by others which raised funds for the hospice, were cancelled or postponed.
We ran more online sales and launched several campaigns - Can't Spend It, Send It in May 2020 and the Urgent Care Appeal in June 2021 - to raise the funds we desperately needed. However, in June 2021 we were 'losing' £2,192 every day.
On the Inpatient Unit we have had to limit visitors in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and staff have had to get used to working in completely different way while providing care on the front line in full PPE.
Limiting visiting goes against what we want to do for patients but it was and remains the best way to keep everyone safe.
From March 2020 the community nursing teams had to be based at home and continue to work this way for the most part. The Hospice Nurse Specialists carry out telephone and video call appointments but always visit patients when necessary.
The Hospice in your Home team have carried on visiting patients at home throughout the pandemic.
Our Hospice in your Care Home team had to adapt rapidly due to the pandemic. They now offer online education and training in palliative and end of life care to all residential and nursing homes in the Borough as well as other services.
Our counsellors and bereavement support team began working from home delivering support via telephone and video call. In October 2021 they began to offer some outdoor therapy sessions for the first time.
Complementary therapies had to stop from March 2020 and steadily began offering appointments from October 2021.
At the end of 2022 our Hospice in your Care Home team became the Practice Development Team hosting the Wigan Borough Palliative and End of Life Care Learning Hub. Please see their page for information on the education and training this team offers.
The hospice is still very much reliant on members of the community for support. The effects of the pandemic are still being felt.
We mark in August 40 years since we opened our doors.