When Gill Crowson was “head-hunted” to work for the Peace Hospice soon after it was officially opened, senior management knew she would prove a safe investment.
At the taxi firm she had run with her husband, she had earlier collected thousands of customers’ signatures for a petition to save the Peace Memorial Hospital building which was later to become the home of the Hospice. Later, impressed by a friend’s fundraising efforts for the Peace Hospice Appeal, Gill joined in.
Having trained in accountancy, it was while she was working as an auditor for Lombard Natwest that she was invited to meet the Chief Executive of the Hospice, Graham Ball. “I assumed it was to discuss an event and when I met him on my way to a farm audit, I was wearing jeans and welly boots, completely unaware that he would offer me the job of Community Fundraiser!”
Gill’s priority was to “meet everybody who might be useful” and support was readily forthcoming, first from a group in Chorleywood, then Cassiobury and Borehamwood. Churches, schools, Freemasons, the Round Table, the Rotary and Lions Clubs, the Fire Brigade, the Watford Observer and Watford Football Club all rallied to the cause.
But the first time Gill did a street collection she discovered that she needed the skills of a social worker, since everyone would have a story, so listening skills became part of the induction training for fundraisers.
Over the years, more than one volunteer became a patient. “I’ve seen it from both sides”, she said. “It’s not about the organisation, it’s about the people in the beds and the people in the community visited by Hospice at Home”.
One of the Hospice’s greatest successes has been the annual Starlight Walk. But soon after Gill’s team started planning, she became ill, which turned out to be a boon for the event, because she was confined to home and able to devote many more hours to organising the first Walk. With a budget of £30,000, it raised £125,000.
Commercial organisations also provided notable stories. The Financial Mail on Sunday, which contributed to the Help for Hospice charity, featured in one poignant episode. They prepared a feature on a patient but before it was published were told the woman was dying. They sent a courier with a transcript of the article and a framed photograph of the woman and her daughter which took pride of place in her room – she died the next morning.
On another occasion the manager of the multi-screen cinema in Garston arranged a private screening of the latest Harry Potter movie for an inpatient, who wanted to watch it with her three-year-old son before she died.
Gill Crowson retired in 2014:
“It wasn’t easy to leave – it wasn’t my career, it was my vocation, it was my life”.