Nineteen eighty-four: Saint Francis Hospice begins

Written by: Joe Emery

In 1984, everything had to be 'big': shoulder pads, hair, TV programmes, personalities, and supergroups. Tina Turner's hair was defying gravity, Dallas was winning the ratings war, the Iron Lady was revelling in a landslide victory, and the pop stars of Band Aid were gathering to feed the Ethiopian famine. 


And of course, there was a big dream: to open a hospice on a hill in Havering-atte-Bower. A dream that soon became a reality, and is still standing strong four decades later. Going against the mid-80s grain, initial funding for our Hospice was anything but 'big'. Dr Dorothy Rule, Peter Smith and Joan Matthews got together in a small flat in Hornchurch to discuss how on earth they could get this hospice idea off the ground.  


As they were putting their coats on to leave, Peter exclaimed, "Maybe we should start fundraising tonight!" Each of them dipped into their pockets and put a five pound note on the table. And so it began. While fairly insignificant in amount, it was a grand gesture: the first funds to ever be collected for our Hospice. 


Our Hospice opened with 10 beds, soon reaching 12, 16, and then 22 in 2013. In the beginning, everybody had to do everything from fundraising to cleaning, nursing, and supporting bereaved families. Even now, our 250 members of staff help out across our Hospice, which is very much part of our ethos. 


The first Matron, Sue Waite, arrived with a pregnant cat who gave birth to kittens in a cupboard now the HR office. The cat could often be seen curled up, keeping a bed warm for a patient. The Hospice is steeped in feline history, and we always aspire to bring cats back to our gardens, set in the beautiful surroundings of this quaint English village. Our first Medical Directors in 1984 were Anthony Smith and Peter Kershaw. They used to volunteer 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 52 weeks a year yet still didn't think anything of it. 


CEO Pam Court explained that there weren't so many rules and regulations in those days: 


"You could pretty much do what you wanted and I suspect that you did!"  


With 18 retails stores, an eBay shop, 850 volunteers, and planning permission to expand our striking 19th-century mansion to be in place by our 36th birthday, we're not stopping. 


Hospice Care Week between 7th-13th October is an annual celebration to raise the profile of hospice care across the UK. This year's theme is This Is What It Takes. The need to find funding is as relevant now as it was 35 years ago.


Our Hospice is a special place, and we need to find £7.8m a year to keep going. That's what it takes to run our Hospice plus a whole lot more. 


Here's to the next 35 years. 


There are many ways you can support us. Find out more by emailing or calling 01708 753319. 


Duke of Edinburgh 1985

Hospice opening day

Duke of Edinburgh 1985

Prince Philip visits our Hospice in 1985

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