We need your help to give the gift of fresh air, nature and sunshine to our patients and their families
My name is Val Forster and I am the Inpatient Unit Manager here at St Oswald’s Hospice.
I hope you enjoyed the lovely weather we were blessed with this summer. I’m sure you’ll agree that being outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air does a world of good for your wellbeing, and the same can be said of the patients and their families at St Oswald’s.
Unfortunately our Adult Inpatient Unit gardens are in desperate need of renovation and have been largely out of action for the majority of the year. There are major works that need to be done to make them safe before we can reopen the gardens for them to be enjoyed by our patients once again.
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Could you help us fully update our Adult Inpatient Unit garden and give the gift of fresh air, nature and sunshine to our patients and their families?
Many of our patients are very poorly when they are referred to our Inpatient Unit. Many are unable to leave their beds and those who can often need a wheelchair to move about. Prior to admission, most patients have either spent time in hospital or have been largely confined to their own home. Their opportunities to spend time outdoors, or even to look out into a garden, have been limited.
I have always thought one of the key differences between St Oswald’s and a hospital setting is our beautiful grounds. Each patient bedroom has doors that open up directly onto the garden, but in recent months, we’ve had to greatly restrict access to patients and visitors. This is because over time, despite the best efforts of our volunteer gardeners, the gardens no longer meet the ever-changing needs of our patients. Many of the paths through the gardens are not wide enough for wheelchairs and our wooden pagoda, a once beautiful centrepiece, is no longer safe to use. We have many young visitors to our Inpatient Unit so we have had to cordon off the pond for safety as there are currently no barriers around it. We know that being able to go outdoors can positively affect a person’s wellbeing. We are determined to make the gardens accessible to all patients, if they wish to do so and at the very least, give them a beautiful view from their bedroom window.
Why our garden is a vital piece in the jigsaw of care
Our Adult Inpatient Unit has 15 beds and last year, the average length of a stay was 23 days. Our patient bedrooms are cosy and comfortable but no matter how homely the team make them, they are no substitute for being able to feel fresh air on your face, smell the scent of flowers and hear the birds sing.
We serve a large geographical area with patients travelling long distances to our unit. Family visits tend to last for a long time as it is difficult to ‘pop’ in and out if home is more than an hour’s drive or bus trip away. Our bedrooms, though large, can become claustrophobic: emotions are heightened and sometimes you simply need to be able to take some time out to talk, to cry or just to be alone with your thoughts. In recent years we have noted an increase in referrals for younger patients with small children who can understandably become bored and fidgety when confined to one room. Access to an outdoor space – and a change of scenery – can lift everyone’s spirits.
One of the memories that really sticks with me from my time here is a young man with a brain tumour who was unable to walk or communicate verbally. He had a wife and four young children. One summer afternoon shortly before he died, the family spent time in the Inpatient garden, on the pagoda in the sunshine and requested that I took a photo of them all together. This was probably the last photo they had taken as a family. They told me that being there surrounded by the water reminded them of being on holiday. It was such a special moment.
Linda and John
Linda Drysdale spent time on our Adult Inpatient Unit in 2016. Linda, aged 73, had been unwell with a complicated illness for a short period before coming to the Hospice, and had spent seven weeks in hospital. Linda died at St Oswald’s in June 2016. Her husband, John, now 76 and from Newcastle tells us what the garden at the hospice meant to him and Linda:
Linda and I were married for 44 years. Linda wasn’t just a wife, she was a pal and my soulmate. After spending seven weeks in hospital, Linda was referred to the Hospice.
I remember vividly when I first came to St Oswald’s, I visited their chapel and it was like walking in to heaven. It was the tranquillity we appreciated, after being in a hospital for so long.
That first day, I just walked around the garden, appreciating the quietness. I felt at peace for the first time in as long as I could remember, just sat there on the seat with my thoughts.
Being outside in the fresh air gave me an escape from the routine we had become used to. I appreciated little things, like the colours of the flowers and the sound from the pond. Despite the garden being so close to a main road and the hustle and bustle of daily life, I felt really relaxed spending time there.
Before Linda came to the Hospice she was very agitated, but this subsided when she came to St Oswald’s. The nurses were gentle and the care was brilliant. It was also great that, unlike at hospital, the family could visit and spend as much time with Linda as we wanted. It made such a difference to me, at a difficult time, to have the gardens, where I could spend time gathering my thoughts and emotions before joining Linda in her room. Even when she died, Linda looked so at peace.
With your generous support, we want to transform our old Inpatient Unit garden into a beautiful, relaxing and safe outdoor space that will bring physical, emotional and spiritual benefits to our patients and visitors
We have worked with a garden designer to bring this vision to life, and we’ve asked to include cosy seating areas, safe and fully accessible walkways with plenty of interesting features, particularly for those staying with us a while. The garden will be easy to maintain for our volunteer gardeners and feature a mix of grassed and patio areas suitable for patients and visitors of all ages. We’ll avoid steps and will screen the pond so it can still be viewed in a safe way by young children, visually impaired people, physically disabled people and people with learning disabilities or dementia.
Lighting will be important, both to clearly mark the path and to ensure that patients can continue to enjoy the view into the garden during the evenings and the darker months of the year. Some patients may be too unwell to leave their rooms, so we’ve asked that the garden has features that may attract wildlife and will include interesting features such as artworks and ornaments. The aim is to open the bedroom doors and bring the outside in.
The garden will be designed with the patients needs at the very centre
Philip Barker is a Landscape Architect and has drawn up some initial plans for the garden. He said:
Accessibility is key for this type of garden. It must be practical and functional but also inspiring, relaxing and generally a lovely place to spend time.I would like to see the pond to continue to be a focal point with some lovely outdoor seating where families of all ages can spend time together. I want to encourage wildlife to the garden or patients to enjoy outside or watch through their windows. Paths will be widened and resurfaced to improve access and lighting is a huge factor to consider. I need to think about how the garden is going to look after dark because if a patient’s sleep pattern is disturbed and they have the curtains drawn back, we want there to be things for them to look at. British weather is temperamental so I’m really keen this garden can be enjoyed all year round. Sheltered seating areas and little garden pods for contemplation and reflection will offer private, comfortable space whatever the weather. The garden will be designed with the patients’ needs at the very centre and I am excited about helping St Oswald’s to make it a reality.
How your gift can make a real difference to our patients
Your gift today will make our dream garden a reality, a beautiful space for local families to enjoy for years to come
I would like to thank you for considering supporting our Adult Inpatient Garden Appeal. A donation today would be a gift directly from you to families like John’s and many others like him. You can make a real difference to the time patients and families spend with us and the memories they make.
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Adult Inpatient Unit Manager