The Community Hospice for Everybody

Gill Sherry

Thirty-five years ago, on 15th February 1989, Ayrshire Hospice opened its doors at 35 Racecourse Road, Ayr. The hospice was established to enhance the quality of life for those living with a life-limiting illness, as well as providing support to those facing the loss of a loved one.

As the hospice has grown, it has become a vital part of palliative and end of life care provision in Ayrshire. But 35 years is a long time and in order to continue providing the best possible care and support, it is currently undertaking a major Capital Build Project following the purchase of a neighbouring property.

“The hospice first opened with eight beds, no day services, no community services. The service model has shifted completely over 35 years. It’s amazing.”

I’m chatting with Chief Executive Officer, Tracy Flynn, who reflects on the changes and sheds light on the project.

“Because of the changing environment in palliative and end of life care, we are less focused on the actual number of beds – we’ll have 12 in the new in-patient unit – and more focused on the people that we can bring in and out of the building through day services and different things. It’s not because there are less people, there are significantly more people… we’ll have 12 beds but we will service many, many more through increasing community services.”

The project is costing just over £18 million but Tracy believes the benefits will be worth every penny.

“A hospice is not just about the building, it’s about the love and attention that you put into it. These are the things that are important. We need to throw open our doors and it can’t be a gloomy place… we celebrate life so we want to fill our new building with the community. The kind of space we want to create is where people can come to the hospice just to have a coffee or a haircut, it would be lovely if we could provide a community service for that. There will be therapy groups, a boutique shop. It’s a change of mindset for people.”

With the acquisition of the neighbouring building, the footprint of the property is obviously much bigger. But it’s the use of that space that is key to the project.

“We will have an education facility so we can take our expertise and we can train other people. By teaching what we do, we can help improve the knowledge base of other healthcare professionals. We’ve always done this but not on this scale. If we can teach what we do to more people, we’ll remain exceptional.”

Tracy continues: “There’s a contemplation space in the new building… a place to come and remember. We’ve never had that before. And we will have a discreet private entrance into the hospice, under a covered area. There will also be a nice reception area in the in-patient unit where families can sit and settle themselves.”

The hospice will also have space for weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. And Christmas at the hospice can take place at any time of the year!

“There’s a lot of glass, so we’re bringing the outside in. That was the ethos from our architects, Austin-Smith: Lord, from the very beginning, to have that natural feel within the whole building. The décor will reflect that as well.”

The plans for the project are displayed on a board behind me and I can’t help but notice how green the space looks.

“There’s a living roof,” Tracy informs me, “and all 12 of the in-patient bedrooms will have a pathway straight out into the garden.”

Of course, the care provided by the hospice is its number one priority, but Tracy is well aware that fundraising is just as important. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand. With that in mind, there are numerous fundraisers planned for this year including a James Bond Ball in June, Afternoon Tea to celebrate International Women’s Day in March, a sporting event with an exciting line-up, and The Full Monty at The Gaiety Theatre in September.

“We’re hoping for a group of local business ambassadors…” says Tracy, after quickly confirming that she won’t be taking part in that particular show herself!

“We’re also bringing back the Colour Dash this year along with Ayrshire Cancer Support. I believe working with aligned charities is something that as an organisation we need to do more of.”

But the small events are just as significant as the big ones, as Tracy confirms: “It’s those small fundraising events that really make the difference. That’s the magic of the hospice in Ayrshire. I’m just so grateful for it… the loyalty that we have from the community isn’t something that I’ve seen anywhere else. It’s quite extraordinary. The hospice is most definitely a loved organisation.”

Bearing in mind that the hospice still has around £2.5 million to raise to get the Capital Build Project over the line, those small fundraisers are as important as ever.

This prompts me to ask Tracy if they have an official opening date. Understandably, knowing how unpredictable these things can be, she’s reluctant to commit to a definite date.

“We hope to be bringing patients back to Racecourse Road and into the in-patient unit before Christmas. It’s a tight timeframe… but I’ve got a great team around me and we’re so determined.”
In the meantime, the charity continues to operate from three different sites. The Capital Project team, fundraising team and communications team are currently based in Miller Road, Ayr. The 11-bed in-patient unit is temporarily at East Ayrshire Community Hospital, and a number of staff are based in the Lochranza Ward at Ailsa Hospital. There’s no doubt it’s been challenging but the promise of having all teams under one roof is an exciting prospect.

“We’re all systems go for the new build,” confirms Tracy, “and we’ll celebrate the birthday with patients and with staff. The birthday is great for us because it means we can really take stock of where we are and it gives us something to celebrate. But we’re aspiring towards the birthday for the following year which is when we will all be back home.”

The charity currently employs 202 paid staff but a further 350 volunteers also contribute to the success of the hospice. Tracy refers to those volunteers as “the lifeblood” of the hospice and wants to double their number once Racecourse Road is officially re-opened.

“I’m willing to look at volunteers across our whole organisation. If you’ve got a skill set that could support us and you’re willing to give some time, then I’m very welcome to that,” she says.

There are numerous volunteering opportunities available. You could work in one of the Ayrshire Hospice shops, for example, or support the fundraising team at events. You could give out teas and coffees, take orders for newspapers, or assist the reception team. Tracy is also keen to establish a flower team again.

“Young people in particular,” she says, “they are the future. Plus, all the tech and IT, that’s the stuff that as a charity, we struggle to afford. And if you want to become a hospice ambassador, let’s talk about that because going out to talk to businesses about how amazing the hospice is… if that’s coming from somebody who’s used our services, that’s really powerful.”

Please don’t think that if you apply to be an ambassador, you’re signing yourself up for an appearance in the aforementioned The Full Monty – there is definitely no pressure to bare all!

Back on a serious note, Tracy has this to say about volunteers: “For me, volunteering isn’t just about giving your time, everybody has to get something back from that and feel that they’re making a valuable contribution. I think that’s really important. Many volunteers want to give something back to their community. Some volunteer for a sense of purpose. I don’t think the hospice is a place where you just come to work for a job. We’ve got lovely values… kindness, compassion, honesty, inclusivity. We strive really hard to maintain those values.”

It’s those values that have ensured that so many people in Ayrshire have received the end of life care that they deserved and wished for.

“It’s special care that we provide. You don’t get a second chance to do it again in palliative and end of life. It’s impactful for those grieving so if somebody has had their wishes fulfilled, that can help in the grieving process.

“We are privileged visitors in people’s lives so we want to be able to help people to do the things they want to do, not just in our environment but in their own home. It’s about trying to encourage people to be as independent as possible and have the death that they would choose to have, where they would choose to have it.”

While many of us are reluctant to talk about death, Tracy has no such qualms.

“Without death there is no life. As a society we have come to fear death. In many cultures… death is respected, death is seen as a passageway. For whatever reason we have come to fear death and it’s taboo to discuss it. Part of my legacy is to break down some of those barriers. Death isn’t easy but we can make it a little bit easier for patients and those who are left behind.”

It’s been a pleasure talking to Tracy, hearing about the Capital Build Project and learning about the care the hospice has provided for the last 35 years. It really is a community hospice for everybody. And with outpatient clinics, Living Well services, and a 24/7 helpline, it continues to support people to stay as well as possible for as long as possible.

Happy birthday Ayrshire Hospice! Best of luck in your new home.