How it all started…
It was 1989 when the idea of a local hospice was first proposed by the Dorset Health Trust, and a new charity to take it forward was formed the following year.
Founder Caroline Nickinson shares her memories of how the hospice was first established, right up to the day the doors first opened.
Back to '30 Years of Weldmar Hospicecare'
In 1989, under its chairman John Greener, local charity The Dorset Health Trust had just raised over a million pounds to build the Childrens’ Centre at Dorset County Hospital for the NHS, and then turned its attention to the need for a hospice in Dorset. At that time palliative medicine was beginning to emerge as a speciality in its own right and an opportunity to encourage the provision of a hospice along the lines developed by Dame Cicely Saunders was perceived to help care for the communities in south and west Dorset.
A great deal of research was undertaken which included visits to other hospices in the south of England. Meetings with potentially interested groups including the NHS, West Dorset Macmillan Service, Trimar, and patient associations such as MND Association and MS Society took place to galvanise support and input into the project.
At an early stage John Greener appreciated that the hospice project would be best served if the project and appeal were to be run by a wholly dedicated body. At his suggestion The Dorset Respite & Hospice Trust was established in June 1990 and incorporated on 10th July, 1990. The Founding Trustees being John Greener, David Revill (a Dorchester Surveyor) and Caroline Nickinson. The new charity quickly engaged new Trustees, all of whom had expertise to offer the project and the main Council was established:
- John Greener (Chairman)
- Dick Hargreaves and David Revill (Vice Chairmen)
- Caroline Nickinson (Company Secretary & Fundraising Lead)
- Mr Paul Barnett, Mrs Judith Bayley, His Honour Giles Best, Miss Jeanne Bisgood, The Lady Digby, Dr Darcy Goode, Dr David Evans, Dr Ken Gill, Mr John Guy, Sir Stephen Hammick, Mr John Hill, Mrs Fiona Irwin, Mrs Margaret Jeffery, Mr Patrick Jeffery, Mr Mark Lea, Mr Henry Lock, General Sir David Mostyn, Mr Jeremy Pope, Mrs Diana Sale, Mr John Simmons, Lady Spicer and Dr John Taylor.
This main Council was supported by a number of sub-committees each with special responsibilities. These were a Design & Building Committee, Grants Committee, Medical Activities Committee, Endowments Committee, Membership Committee and an Investment Committee.
The Dorset Health Trust, who owned the land on which the Winterbourne Hospital is built, approached The Duchy of Cornwall to purchase the site next door, on which the hospice now stands. The Duchy agreed to this and once purchased it was gifted to the hospice. Following on from this approach The Duchy and the then Prince of Wales (now His Majesty The King) took a keen interest in the design of the building and the landscaping of the site and made a number of visits. Indeed, he personally chose the type of bricks used for the building and the roof finials. Throughout the whole of the building works, HRH’s architect Léon Krier was available for advice. His Royal Highness was approached by the Trust with the request that he becomes Patron which, much to everyone’s delight he agreed to do. He has remained so ever since.
The Design & Building Committee, under the chairmanship of Dick Hargreaves, got to work on the project whilst the fundraising ran in parallel. Under John Greener and Caroline Nickinson, the appeal was launched for a total of £5 million (£3.2 million to build and equip and a further £1.8 million towards an endowment fund to help with the running costs of the hospice). The Dorset Health Trust contributed approximately £500,000 to cover all the expenses incurred in running the appeal. This appeal received tremendous support from the public through personal donations and events, together with local businesses and grant making trusts both locally and nationally. Stephen Hebb was appointed as the architect along with Peter Gunning as quantity surveyor, and Tony Benger as the landscape designer.
In 1992, the appeal had reached the stage where the Trust was confident of raising the remainder of the required funds and as this coincided with a very advantageous building tender, this was secured, the contract signed and the building works started.
Sir Joseph Weld, the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset was the Trust’s first President and although having failing health was able to cut the first turf in May 1992. Upon his death shortly afterwards, Lady Digby took over as President and Lord Digby, as the new Lord Lieutenant performed the topping out ceremony.
It was then unanimously agreed to call the hospice after Sir Joseph Weld, as he had a genuine love of Dorset and its people. It was also agreed that the hospice would also include a small number of beds for respite care for patients with conditions other than cancer.
In the first part of 1993 the first Senior Management Team were appointed, who led the equipping of the building and employment of staff.
- David Pinder – General Manager
- Dr Richard Sloan – Medical Director
- Pam Homer – Director of Nursing
- Caroline Nickinson – Director of Fundraising
Everything went to plan and the building was completed and fully furnished and equipped by October 1993. The culmination of the project was the arrival of the first patients on 19th January 1994. The President, Lady Digby, joined the staff to be there on this momentous day, which had only been made possible by the generosity of the people of Dorset and the endless hard work of so many. The volunteer army of supporters must be given special credit as this would not have happened without them.
On 31st May, 1994, The Duchess of Norfolk officially conducted the opening ceremony and in late June, HRH The Prince of Wales paid his first official visit to see for himself what had been achieved. John Greener, although seriously ill himself by then, managed to escort HRH around and introduce him to the staff. Sadly, he passed away in the hospice just a few days later.
Pictured: David Revill, David Pinder, Richard Sloan, Pam Homer, Caroline Nickinson, HRH, Stephen Hebb, John Greener