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Anne Frew

Anne has enormous pleasure in recalling her volunteering experiences in the early days of the Hospice...

“At first there was some misunderstanding in Berkhamsted regarding the provision the Hospice might offer; people thought it would be private health care for the well-off, and we had to work hard to dispel that myth.  Initially Pam Macpherson was the driving force in the project, along with Angela Russell-Smith (a history teacher at Berkhamsted Girls School), Erica Hughes and Gwen Martin. Angela and Erica were good friends and shared a house.  A prayer vigil was held at St Peter’s Church to begin with, and other local churches were supportive; although they couldn’t help financially, they spread the word and encouraged the venture.”

Anne’s professional background had been in orthoptics, having trained at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.  She worked at RAF Halton hospital and specialised in the machine diagnosis of eye squints in children and RAF staff, prescribing physiotherapy eye exercises to cure the condition. When she gave this up to raise her four children she made time for community fundraising for the purchase of Shrublands from the nuns who were selling the house, and continued her volunteering for a total period of twelve years until hip surgery became necessary.

“We organised ‘snowball coffee mornings’- so-called as they just grew and grew, and were so successful that we ladies were baking every day!  And they raised a lot of money as people would happily put several pounds into the box every time they came in.  We also had garden parties, large and small.  Gwen Martin organised craft sessions, with Angela Fishburn making fantastic lampshades and Eileen Fisher producing skilled needlework items, and these provided a good income from sales.  A variety of donations from generous residents also came our way, and as Angela was a dynamic, knowledgeable and very well connected person, she took the more valuable items to London shops and dealers where they realised substantial amounts of money.

“Eventually, when Shrublands was purchased, we formed a team of volunteers to run the place, organised by Carol Livingstone.   To start with it was a day centre, receiving patients whilst families and carers had some free time. Priscilla Coombes was our dedicated transport lady, driving patients to and fro; Dr Dunphy popped in every day to administer medical care, and often brought along his little white dog – which we all enjoyed immensely!”

Anne reflects on wonderful memories of that time.  “What I really liked was our interaction with patients and families, giving personal care and comfort, making it a sociable experience in an informal homely atmosphere.  We made a fuss of the ladies, doing their nails and hair!  I suppose that ethos came from my career experiences in hospital – and I found it absorbing and fulfilling. It was always busy – the doorbell rang constantly, volunteers were cooking lunches – pots of soup – every day, keeping the house tidy and ironing tray cloths.  My slot was usually on a Tuesday but as I lived only two doors away I often popped in to cover for volunteer absences as well.  Of course we had no regulations or health and safety rules to adhere to!”  Later on the property next door was acquired, and that was used for meetings and admin.

In 1986, after their children had grown up, Anne and her husband Bill took a career posting to America.  They returned in 1989 to live close to Shrublands, eventually moving to Barncroft Road, by which time the Hospice was organised more formally, “It became more institutional in feel, but nevertheless a valued part of the community,” she says.  The building was refurbished and altered to accommodate extra bedrooms and improved medical facilities, and a matron and nursing staff were in post. Consequently, there was not the same opportunity for volunteers to get to know patients, so they focused on housekeeping.

Anne’s husband had retired and, having been so supportive of her commitment to the Hospice, became a volunteer trustee, only recently giving up his duties.

Anne and Bill lived in Berkhamsted from 1968 to 2018, but have recently settled in Surrey in a retirement village where Anne, now 87, is a keen Scrabble player!

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