25th ANNIVERSARY OF PEACE HOSPICE CARE – A brief history
This year Peace Hospice Care, based in Watford, celebrates its 25th anniversary. The Hospice, cares for people living with a life limiting illness and their families from across Hertfordshire, has become a familiar and much-loved part of the local scene. The Hospice costs £5 million a year to run and receives less than 25% of this amount from statutory funding. This means over £4 million has to be raised from charitable donations, putting the Hospice at the heart of the community.
The story of the Peace Hospice began in 1925. That year the Peace Memorial Hospital, built by public subscription as a memorial to those killed in the First World War, was opened by Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, at a cost of £90,000. The new Hospital occupied a prominent position alongside the Town Hall and was further enhanced in 1928 when a War Memorial designed by local resident Mary Bromet and featuring three bronze statutes was erected in front of the façade.
The Hospital was extended in 1937, but by the 1970s its days were numbered. The Bromet memorial was moved to a new site alongside the Town Hall to accommodate road widening, and the Hospital services were gradually relocated to the new Watford General Hospital being built on the Shrodells site. In 1985, the Peace Memorial Hospital was closed. The Health Authority announced plans to use the Hospital for geriatric patients and most of the outer buildings were demolished. But by 1988 the Hospital had been seriously vandalised and was falling into disrepair, with no further news about its long-term future. As a final indignity, the historic and much-loved clock was stolen from the facade.
Amid public outcry about the dismal state of the Hospital, the South West Herts Hospice appeal was launched in 1991 from an office above the Watford Hospice Shop in the Lower High Street, with enthusiastic backing from the Watford Observer, and in 1992 the Health Authority agreed to a Hospice on the Peace Memorial site. The fund raising events ranged from Gala Concerts and sponsored slimathons to darts marathons and pocket money donations. By 1993 the Hospice appeal had raised enough money to start a temporary Day Care centre in a portacabin alongside the Hospital. It was opened by entertainer and Hospice campaigner Roy Castle.
The next target was to transfer the Day Care centre and office facilities into the old Hospital. Building work began in 1995, and the new facility was officially opened by HRH Princess Michael of Kent the following year. The Princess returned five years later to open a new Inpatient unit, which currently cares for about 250 patients a year.
As well as Inpatient care and Day Care, the Hospice has built up a range of ancillary services, including an outpatient service and bereavement support. Since 2005 the Hospice has also provided a Hospice at Home service, enabling patients and their families to receive treatment and support at home.
In 2006 the players and staff of Watford FC, led by manager Aidy Boothroyd, helped to raise awareness as well as valuable funds by taking part in the first Hospice Firewalk. That year the Raz Gold Foundation, founded in memory of patient Raz Gold, raised over £100,000 for the Hospice. Trust donations and legacies continue to be a major source of income.
HRH Princess Michael of Kent made a welcome return in 2014 to open the Starlight Centre, which occupied the previously unused first floor of the Inpatient Unit building. This offers wellbeing, therapy and other support services, all delivered in a friendly and sociable setting.
The modern Peace Hospice is run by a team of dedicated clinical, fund-raising and administrative staff. They are supported by an army of over 600 volunteers who work in the Hospice itself and at the 14 Hospice shops, and countless local supporters who organise their own fund-raising events. Hospice and community come together on various special occasions, notably the annual Lights of Love ceremonies first held in 1996 and the yearly Starlight Walk for women, first held in 2007, which has so far raised a total of £1.4 million for the Hospice. The tenth and final Starlight Walk will be an integral part of the anniversary celebrations in 2016.