Danuta Orlowska, Lecturer in Palliative Care and Suzie Stark, Chaplain at St Columba’s Hospice, describe the value of opening the hospice’s doors to the public.
St. Columba’s Hospice opened in 1977 and is a much loved part of the community in Edinburgh and the Lothians. We are in a stunning location overlooking the Firth of Forth in North Edinburgh. Two of our buildings are listed and we moved in to a new building housing inpatient wards, day therapies and complementary therapies on our existing site in 2014.
Participation in Doors Open Days, in which buildings in Scotland are opened to the public each September, offers an opportunity for outreach. We invite people to spend time in our beautiful setting and find out about what we offer, meet staff and volunteers (and Therapets!)
We have taken part for several years and it’s good to be part of this city-wide event – being listed in the Doors Open brochure might bring us to the attention of a wider audience than if we ran such an event independently. We are one of several Scottish hospices which took part in 2018 (alongside Strathcarron Hospice, Ayrshire Hospice, Highland Hospice and the gardens of Robin House Children’s Hospice).
Our planning started months ahead and involved Maggie Young (Deputy Volunteer Services Manager) co-ordinating a rota of dozens of people and several Therapets, PR and Communications colleagues to help with promoting the day, our Facilities Manager to advise and help with practical matters and liaise with our wonderful catering and domestic teams.
Colleagues working across different areas of the hospice including our Centre for Education and Research volunteered to be on hand during the day. The input of volunteers was essential and they embraced specific tasks including creative arrangements from the Flower Team, co-ordinating visiting musicians and welcoming visitors at a dedicated reception desk as well as enthusing about their roles.
We offered access to our Board Rooms overlooking the Firth of Forth, to the Day Therapies area, counselling and complementary therapy rooms. Current patients and family members were welcome to visit areas of the hospice they might not have previously seen. We took care to maintain the privacy and peace of inpatient areas that were not open to visitors, but displayed photographs of inpatient rooms and wards.
Visitors were guided through our buildings and able to stop and talk to staff and volunteers based in specific zones. Refreshments were available in one of our many rooms overlooking the sea where visitors could enjoy listening to talented young musicians from our local secondary school Trinity Academy, who offered a variety of musical interludes. In another room the sounds of folk music – both serene and more energetic melodies – delighted listeners. Our folk musicians co-ordinated by Ros Gasson, a local fiddle teacher and founder of a ceilidh band, play at the hospice on a monthly basis.
The day also included the World Premiere of the Edinburgh hospice choir. Our café offered a second spot for refreshments and September was not too early for Christmas cards and gifts to be available!
As well as general information about what we do, this year we shared information about a research trial in which some of our Day Therapies patients are taking part. We also prepared a small leaflet about the hospice buildings and some of our historical associations – in the 1890s, Sir John Murray, regarded as the founder of modern oceanography lived in what is now our administration building, renaming it Challenger Lodge after the expedition ship on which he had sailed around the world (1872-1876).
This year we included a public engagement exercise: our Chief Executive Jackie Stone was on hand with short survey forms, and our Chaplain, Suzie Stark, led on gathering informal feedback. The majority of the feedback focused on the atmosphere of the hospice – both the physical and the psychological. Some visitors specifically considered the beneficial effect of the atmosphere on those who used our hospice services. “What an amazing place – welcoming, tranquil – a real eye-opener – must give great solace to patients and family” said one.
The value of volunteers was also reflected in the comments: “Staff and volunteers I met were so, so lovely, warm and welcoming.” Indeed one person specifically mentioned considering joining the volunteer team: “After this Doors Open Day I am interested to become a volunteer!”
Part of the aim of taking part in Doors Open Day was to promote palliative care and some comments specifically referred to the value of the visit towards broadening the understanding of what we do. Feedback included: “I learned another, brighter side of what a hospice can and should be” and
“It is good to let ‘the public’ in, so as to remove fear which is caused by ignorance.” Comments such as these highlight the importance of public events within hospice settings, whether as part of a city- wide initiative or those held by hospices as part of their own outreach work.
Doors Open Day involves a lot of planning and co-ordination between different areas of the hospice and many volunteers. It can be tiring – so for a little break we can always find one of the Therapets, another cup of tea or dance to the folk music! Feeling the warm atmosphere on the day makes it all worthwhile.