Back to the Future – Part XII – Reflections

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It is hard to do justice to a history that draws on the stories of over 70 people who describe the high points and the minutiae of organisational life over 60 years plus. We haven’t tried to be comprehensive in this publication and apologise for those aspects of the history we have failed to highlight.

It doesn’t mean that they weren’t important; simply that they didn’t resonate sufficiently with the views of others to represent a key theme that we recognised. Undoubtedly, others will go back to the interviews and highlight new and different aspects of our history and we look forward to reading those.

In the meantime, we offer a few reflections afforded us by reviewing the interviews and their content.

First is the repeated stories of early employees being drawn to St Christopher’s because of the vision of Cicely Saunders and her ambition to care differently for dying people.

In subsequent years others have joined the hospice for similar reasons – committed to improving people’s experience of dying, often against the odds.

If the hospice (and other similar organisations) wishes to continue recruiting people who want to contribute to high quality care, often counter-cultural in nature, then it must continue to provide these individuals with the opportunity to work with visionaries, with individuals who share ambitions of a much-improved world, and leaders who create opportunity for them to initiate new approaches and flourish in their role.

I THINK there is something about capturing this story while the majority of the people who are able to remember the first years as much as today are still able to tell us

Rev. Dr Andrew Goodhead St Christopher’s Lead for Spiritual Care & Quality

Second is the opportunities afforded to the hospice to create a death literate nation or world. The stories tell us again and again of how engagement with St Christopher’s encouraged people to connect with the issues of death, dying and grief at a personal or professional level; then to learn a language and confidence that helped them secure care for themselves or those close to them, before becoming advocates/guides for others or becoming involved in care delivery themselves.

We had not appreciated the notion of hospice as a way of life prior to reading this history. Importantly it highlights how organisations like St Christopher’s could be galvanised and built on in the future to achieve a society that knows how to talk about the end of life and work more confidently to better endings for its citizens.

Then there is a new insight about how the art and science of hospice care fit together to achieve a quality of care that is highly valued by those who receive it. There is clear value placed on relationships within and beyond care provided at St Christopher’s augmented by scientific research and practice which meticulously attends to the suffering experienced by those that are dying or grieving. If we fail to nurture both elements of care moving forward, we will fail to advance care at the end of life.

The quality of connections generated and perpetuated within the community of St Christopher’s is worthy of mention. Relationships are the glue in the many different aspects of organisational life, contributing, at their best, to strong and valued experiences of care, employment, volunteering, philanthropic efforts, learning and more.

At a time when much of the care on offer within formal health and social care systems is increasingly transactional in nature, our history invites proactive and determined effort to protect and enhance the opportunity for relationship.

The history of St Christopher’s describes the fine balance between an organisation characterised by light touch governance and one in which resources (people, money and buildings) are more tightly and formally controlled.

There are strengths and risks associated with both approaches and St Christopher’s abounds in examples which demonstrate the value and limitations of each. The informality and creativity of the early years undoubtedly contributed to the richness of life and care on the part of the hospice; the more formalised approach to leadership of the hospice in more recent times has secured it a future (financial and otherwise) that allows it to negotiate increasing leverage and reach locally and beyond.

We are pleased to note that the history told does not shy away from the mistakes made by the hospice at points in its life to date. These are inevitable for any organisation, particularly one that has been pioneering, led by conviction rather than rules and one characterised historically as responsive and fleet of foot.

Its apology within the history and beyond is a sign of an entity that is willing to look at itself critically, to learn and grow. We applaud that humility.

Finally, what is clear is that the organisation’s value and impact lies in the people who have participated in its life. St Christopher’s character, success and contribution to date is a consequence of the many thousands of people who have used the hospice, supported its efforts, volunteered or worked as part of its paid workforce.

Whilst some might argue that St Christopher’s came into being and has been perpetuated through its physical presence in Sydenham, Orpington and in the high streets via its shops, the history of the hospice confirms that it is the individual and collective contributions of all involved, their relationships and connections, and their enduring commitment that has shaped the hospice of today.

And what about the future?

This moment in which we look back on the first 60 years of St Christopher’s is not the end of its history, simply a moment in time. In 10, 20 or 30 years’ time, another history will tell the next iteration of the story of this organisation. We are sure it will comprise the same richness, complexity and mistakes alongside triumphs.

We want to thank the many people who contributed and to those who made the oral history happen and wish all who read it as many happy hours and new insights as we have enjoyed ourselves.


Thanks to

  • The Heritage Fund for its generous funding of this project
  • The Board of Trustees at St Christopher’s Hospice, Heather Richardson and Shaun O’Leary for leadership and support for the oral history project
  • David Clark and Geoffrey Browell for help with the application for funding
  • Michelle Winslow for guiding the project as its lead consultant
  • Andrew Goodhead (Chair), Geoffrey Browell, Ian Jones, Michael Kerin, David Morris, Neville Walter as members of the Steering Group for overseeing the project
  • Daniel Albon and Lily Skelton , Esther Gill, Joe Wood, Stacey Cave and Emma Woodhouse for delivering the project and its completion.

List of Volunteers

Judy Banfield-Chandler, Laura Clouting, Sandra Davey, Christine D’Mello, Bella D’Souza, Graham Earl, Rebecca Fog, Ian Jones, Aileen Kelly, Jane Murphy, Catherine Pestano, Rose Remedios, Lynda Stimson and Helen Stocker.

List of interviewees

Dion Bachmann, Gillian Bahari, Mary Baines, Laura Bechelet, Mavis Bird, Eduardo Bruera, Liz Bryan, Rosemary Burch, Anna Butt, Anne Conway, Bella D’Souza, Nigel Dodds, Annette Douglas, Maria Downer, Gill Early, Julia Foguel, Gillian Ford, Sue Gilder, Andrew Goodhead, Sue Grindlay, Emma Hall, Penny Hansford, Philip Harris, Nigel Hartley, Peter Heyward, Irene Higginson, Jo Hockley, Deborah Holman, Deborah Holman, Avril Jackson, Rae Keeley, Philippa Kelham, Elizabeth Kwesiga, Angela Lafferty, Alison Landon, Georgina Lavelle, Lorna Malcolm, Ian McColl, Barbara Monroe, Louis Heyse Moore, Jane Murphy, Anne Nash, Rosemary Needham, Isabel Galriça Neto, Jan Noble, Betty O’Gorman, Shaun O’Leary, Julie O’Neill, David Oliver, Colin Murray Parkes, Malcolm Payne, Ian Penistone, David Praill, Bill Punyer, Barbara Richardson, Heather Richardson, Valerie Rowe, Alison Samuel, Christopher Saunders, Ruth Saunders, Sally Scott-Ralphs, Aida Shoush, Min Stacpoole, Jan Stone, Pia-Kristina Svenhard, Nigel Sykes, Helena Talbot-Rice, Jenny Taylor, Helen Thomas, Fiona Towse, Patricia Trembath, Robert Twycross, Reg Van Selm, Deborah Worwood and anonymous interviewees.

You can visit the virtual oral history exhibition The Voices that Shaped Us: Modern Hospice in the Making at


This is the twelfth and last of our serialisation of “Back to the Future – Reflections on an Oral History of St Christopher’s Hospice”. Previous articles can be found below.

ehospice is proud to be sharing  this slice of history with the wider hospice and palliative community.

If you have local histories to share then please write to us at

Part I – Introduction

Part II – Being Prepared to be Radical

Part III – Responding to the Experience of Suffering

Part IV – Supporting Innovation

Part V – Hospice as a Way of Life

Part VI – Building and Nurturing Relationships

Part VII – Being True to the Founding Values

Part VIII – Creating a Committed and Talented Workforce

Part IX – Investing In a strong multi-disciplinary Team Approach

Part X – Being generous with learning

Part XI – Changing with the times




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