Jo Connell was Chair of our Board of Trustees from 2004 – 2009 and Chair of Our Project Board, in charge of getting the new Hospice built, at a pivotal time in our history as we prepared to move to a new site and create a future-proofed building which would equip us for the 21st century.
Her input was key. She was at every Board and Project Board meeting and according to those she worked alongside, she was “wise, decisive, practical and financially savvy.” “She really had it,” said one former associate.
Jo joined our Board of Trustees in 2003 after retiring from her high profile career in the IT industry, where she was one of the early women to rise to the top, latterly as Group Managing Director of Xansa PLC, a FTSE 250 computer software company based in Hemel Hempstead.
She had already made commitments to other interests, including as Chair of the Board of Governors and Pro Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, but she knew David Palmer, our then Board Treasurer, and at his suggestion she brought her business acumen to support the Board in the mammoth venture they were about to undertake, subsequently becoming Chair of Trustees in 2004, succeeding Joan Gentry.
The land for the new building had already been acquired - thanks to a generous legacy from a Mr Paul Beard, from London; the former Hospice home in Shrublands Road was yet to be sold but a huge amount of funding was still required, and difficult decisions had to be made.
There were many conditions relating to the full 2004 planning consent for the new Hospice building in Spring Garden Lane, and also to the development of the grounds.
“It was obvious that this project required an enormous amount of skilled oversight,” Jo remembers, “so it was prudent to appoint an experienced external project manager to direct it on the Board’s behalf for the early part of the project.”
Heading up the Project Board, Jo asked Humphrey Norrington, who retired as Vice-Chairman of Barclays Bank in 1993, to chair the Capital Appeal, with an ambitious £2.5m as the target sum.
“A great number of volunteers were keen to do their bit,” she recalls, “and there were very generous, substantial donations coming in all the time, so it was gratifying to see this extensive project make progress.”
Jarvis of Harpenden were chosen as the main contractors after a competitive tender process and work began in June 2005. Amazingly, it was completed in January 2007 – just 18 months later.
Jo is very complimentary when recalling the contractors’ attention to detail. “They were so motivated to do a good job for us and were terrific to liaise with,” she says.
Finances too were a major factor. “In the summer of 2006, we were looking at a project shortfall of £1m, though by now the property market had improved so much that the subsequent contract of sale of Shrublands netted us £1m more than originally forecast – it was an ideal outcome!”
Shona Gentry, an environmental consultant and the daughter of Joan Gentry - Jo’s predecessor as Chair - volunteered to coordinate the garden project, taking on the technical liaison aspects with contractors and planners, which included decisions about the remedial work and landscaping required on this brownfield site.
“She looked after all the technical issues,” recalls Jo, “like where to base the building on the brownfield site and whether or not we should use the water from the natural wells. Joan (Gentry) masterminded the garden design and planting.”
When the new building was ‘signed off,’ there was a smooth transfer of patient care from the old hospice building to the new in January 2007.
“It was wonderful - the removal vans just appeared that day, and patients moved in with the clinical staff in a seamless transfer,” says Jo, who paid tribute to then Hospice Director Dr Ros Taylor for her direction throughout that time, as well as her clinical excellence, which set the gold standard for the Hospice.
“Ros is an amazing clinician,” she smiles, “she has such a rapport with patients and their families, we were and are so lucky to have her experience and talent to develop the Hospice in its continued innovation of palliative care.”
Being a local resident, Jo acknowledges the public profile of the Hospice and the support it attracts from the local community, and is proud of her association with the Spring Garden Lane development.
Having stepped down from the Board of Trustees, she remains a Hospice Association Member and Patron, and is also a Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire and a trustee of Herts Community Foundation, chairing their Grants Committee.