Dame Esther Rantzen DBE returned to Berkhamsted, the place of her birth this week, for only the fourth time in 77 years, to speak about hospice care, loneliness and her earliest memories at our Annual General Meeting.
Dame Esther, who has spoken movingly on the loneliness of bereavement and in later life on a number of occasions, is best known for fronting That’s Life for 21 years, for setting up Childline and in 2012 The Silver Line, which is a free, confidential advice line for older people.
The charity campaigner spent the first part of her visit meeting patients and some of the Hospice’s army of 350 volunteers in their seventies or older. This included the charity’s oldest volunteer, Bill Frew, ninety this month, a current ambassador and ex-trustee before she addressed supporters, trustees, Hospice ambassadors, volunteers and staff.
Dame Esther, who spent the first five years of her life in Berkhamsted which her grandparents picked as it was ‘the loveliest, most attractive town’ as they escaped London and the Battle of Britain, started her AGM speech with some of her earliest memories by saying that “For me, Berkhamsted is tied up with my feelings about this country – my feelings of deep gratitude.”
She the continued to speak with humour about her career before touching on loneliness, saying
“You know the expression, ‘I had plenty of people to do something with but nobody to do nothing with’ – well that was me after I downsized in terms of accommodation. You go back to a cold, dark flat, there’s nobody to have a cup of tea with, nobody to watch Bake Off or Blue Planet 2 with.”
She went on to say that living on her own spurred her to start The Silver Line (0800 4 708090) which now receives 1,500 calls a day from people in their seventies and older who want help, friendship and advice. She urged the audience to consider volunteering for her charity to speak to callers on the phone and for older members to act as ‘mystery shoppers’ by ringing up and giving feedback on the service.
Dame Esther closed by telling everyone to ‘continue the good work you do’, saying “ I wish you all the strength, all the success, to carry on this wonderful work; carry on being this army, this passionate, committed army of people who care about this Hospice and are going to make it survive into the future. On behalf of all the patients you help, thank you very much indeed.”
Kate Phipps-Wiltshire, Hospice CEO said, “We were delighted to welcome Dame Esther Rantzen to our AGM. She has touched so many people during her life both personally, through the medium of TV and through her great legacies of Childline and now The Silver Line. We enjoyed her good humour, her passion to lessen loneliness in later life which we try to emulate in much of our bereavement work as well as her ardent endorsement of the hospice movement.”
Kate used her speech at the AGM to say she felt inspired after her first eight weeks at the helm, saying, “This place inspires incredible loyalty and commitment and, when you walk in through the doors, you feel the love and compassion that built this place and sustains it.
She continued by saying, “I have already had the pleasure of meeting lots of you and have really enjoyed learning from your experience. How we value personal experience is one of the hallmarks of our Hospice. Time has a special place for us too. There are 525,600 minutes in a year, in which we cared for 2,000 people last year. We needed to raise £9 a minute to do this. The army that Dame Esther described is over 1100 volunteers and over 200 staff.
“But, if we look at what we know from national studies, only one out of four people who could benefit from hospice care will have access to it. We want everyone to have access to hospice care and so we will be working to increase our reach in the coming years.
“To do this, we have to be able to inspire more people to have fun raising money for the Hospice so that we can ‘give more people their life back’ – whether that is those who have a life-limiting illness but want to maintain their independence and sense of self or whether that’s an adult or child who’s been bereaved and needs support through their grief. Together, with the ongoing help of local people we can do so much and I’m excited about the opportunity for our community.”
Nearly 100 people attended the AGM on Tuesday night (31st October) and before the meeting, enjoyed the opportunity to mingle and find out more about the Hospice’s work. The Hospice’s Impact Report, which outlines its key achievements during the financial year 2016/7, is now available on its website at: www.stfrancis.org.uk/impactreport