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My first year as a Hospice CEO – Lois Howell

Jasmine Cotton
Jasmine Cotton

I started my role as Chief Executive Officer at St Wilfrid’s Hospice, Chichester on March 27th 2023. Prior to this, I worked as the Director of Governance and Risk at the NHS Trust on the Isle of Wight, which involved looking after the acute hospital, community, mental health and ambulance services on the island. 

I was searching for a new role in a non-profit making sector. I have never been motivated by making lots of money for myself or other people, and I really wanted to be sure that I was working in an organisation that served the community. I had worked almost exclusively in the public sector, and I had looked after the charities associated with a number of hospitals in which I had worked.

At that point, my family had had recent experience of hospice care; my brother died in May 2022, and he and his family were supported by the Martlets Hospice in Brighton. That same year happened to be the 20th anniversary of the death of my father, who had received care from the Hospice in the Weald.

When I saw the advert for the CEO position at St Wilfrid’s, I realised that this was a job that I would absolutely love, and I thought that my skillset could be of use to the organisation. I was very keen to apply and was delighted when I was successful.

These are five things I have learnt in my first year as CEO of a local hospice, and thank you to everyone who has supported me so generously in that time.

1. People don’t realise how much they value hospice care until they need it.

The most important lesson I have learnt is how many people don’t realise how much they value hospice support until they need it. There’s such a clear sense of relief that floods through most people when they understand the difference that we can make to patients and loved ones. We know that we are not going to be able to change the outcome, but we are probably going to make it easier to accept, and make what could be the worst possible thing more manageable for people, as we try to reduce the impact.

I think because of my family experience of hospice care, I already knew the difference that it makes, but I don’t think everyone understands; some people don’t appreciate that hospice care isn’t just about coming here to die. It is about providing holistic care, to the patient and their friends and family.

The biggest luxury about hospice care is that we have time. We have time to be that calm voice which answers questions honestly, and patients and loved ones can come back to ask us the same questions if they need to. We understand that people may not be in the right headspace the first time, or might not understand our answers, and we’re more than happy to give them time to speak to us again.

2. Charity retail is amazing!

I have definitely learnt that charity retail is absolutely amazing! It’s unpredictable, it’s challenging, but it’s fabulously rewarding, and it’s a really useful source of income for our charity.

But it’s also a huge source of support for the community, and we are so lucky with the volunteers and employees who work in our shops, because they are often the first port of call for people who need our services, or their first contact with the Hospice. Local people will bring the possessions of someone who has died recently into one of our shops to donate, and they often share their stories and memories of their loved one. People will share their distress, share their hopes for the future, or worries and thoughts about the person who has died.

The impact that charity retail can have on people in our community is amazing. I think of charity retail as a stealth route to providing help and support to people, which is fantastic.

3. As a local hospice we should be a good neighbor in the community

I would say that it’s really important that St Wilfrid’s, as a local hospice, is seen as a good neighbour within the community, and not focused only on the world of hospice. We must ensure that we are engaged and warm and welcoming to other parts of our community.

We are incredibly good at collaborating, and we are looking to work with Sage House, the Dementia Hub, we’re currently working well with the Robins, a community support service in Selsey, and we also work closely with our neighbours at the Apuldram Centre.

I think it’s really important that the Hospice in any area is seen as a part of the community, and not just an isolated place that nobody talks about, or they talk about in whispers.

St Wilfrid's Hospice Living Well Centre team

4. We couldn’t run our services without volunteers

I already knew that volunteers are amazing through my own experiences prior to working at St Wilfrid’s, but I believe that our volunteers are extra special. Our volunteers give us so much of their time and skillset, from gardeners, counsellors, HR and finance professionals, café workers, sales assistants, ward companions, and so, so many more across the charity.

They are all hugely beneficial to our work at St Wilfrid’s and give their time so generously. Quite simply, we wouldn’t be able to run the charity without their support.

We must ensure that it’s a mutually beneficial experience, and that our volunteers are getting something in return. We take so much from them and we really must make sure that we are giving all that we can back to them.

5. Our expert care is excellent, and it shouldn’t be overshadowed by the fabulous

We provide excellent clinical care for people, and our level of expert care is amazing. We also do some fabulous things for patients and their loved ones, like making it snow in July, arranging visits to see Spitfires, or bringing puppies, rabbits (and ponies!) on to the Ward.

Although we do those incredible things for individuals and families, it’s really important that those events don’t eclipse the quiet, every-day reliability and support that we provide all the time – the clinical care always comes first, and that’s where our focus lies.

We don’t need to do all the fabulous, exciting stuff – the core of what we do and what people get most benefit from is that expert care and support. It’s the ability to ask questions, the access to clinicians, and the time that we have to spend with them. I would hate anyone to get the wrong end of the stick about our priorities.

I wouldn’t want people to be deterred from supporting us because they think we are going to spend their money on frivolities – we don’t. Those really spectacular extras are given to us through favours, and they just happen naturally through the thoughtfulness our wonderful clinicians, employees, and volunteers.  We rely on our supporters’ generosity to maintain the every-day brilliance that all of our services (including all the support services, which make our clinical care possible) deliver.  

Hospice at Home team going out on a patient visit

Finally, I love the long-lasting, supportive relationships that we have with patient’s families and loved ones. They have such a long-term commitment to us and they feel very connected to the Hospice. We give loved ones many opportunities to connect, whether that’s coming in for a coffee in our café, to attending events such as our annual Moonlight Walk, which is very much an act of remembrance as well as a fundraising activity. We welcome anyone in the community who would like to support St Wilfrid’s Hospice.

Thank you to everyone who has welcomed me to St Wilfrid’s – I don’t think I could have found a better role anywhere else.


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