Peter Elson speaks to Lady Pilkington, about spying and Willowbrook Hospice
Known for her fundraising experience locally, she played a pivotal role helping to raise the initial £1.8m to build Willowbrook Hospice and then its £1m outpatient extension.
She continues to raise the hospice’s profile and is closely involved in many fundraising activities crucial to its survival.
“It costs £2m a year to run, with a third from the NHS, a further £30,000 a year comes from our 10 charity shops. The rest we must raise by other means like our own lottery.”
Surprisingly, there are only 10 beds, which must cater for the needs of St Helens and Knowsley’s 300,000 people, although 50 out-patients are seen a week. The average stay in the hospice is two weeks with 450 patients looked after annually.
It is hoped extra government funding will allow the addition of two more beds and mean shared rooms can be made single sex.
“Also lifespans are extended, so people’s symptoms are getting more complicated and they want more privacy,” she said.
Her involvement in the hospice stems from helping to set up a cancer counselling service instigated by David Pilkington in St Helens and training as a cancer counsellor herself.
“The then St Helens Mayor, Cllr Ken Cleary asked if I would head up a committee looking into whether a hospice was needed in the area.
“There was already a group who’d been pushing for a hospice forever and getting nowhere. The catalyst was Ken choosing the hospice fund-raising as his official charity.
“I’d never chaired a meeting before and knew nothing about committee procedure, but I was intrigued and hate saying no. Having been a secretary I could take good notes and the momentum just took over.
“We were up against it at the beginning as doctors felt they looked after their patients well enough, whereas we were an amateur group setting up to do what was already done.
“But we brought everyone together and found there was a need among the local population and huge fund-raising enthusiasm.
“I’m just so proud of our 97 staff and 500 volunteers. While I stopped attempts to name the hospice after me, I like being part of every aspect of it and helping to keep standards up.
“Obviously, we leave the medicine to the medics and the local health community is now hugely supportive. My role now is about fund-raising, but I also serve in our charity shops and help in the garden.”
Describing her schooling as “practically anti-education”, she said: “All I learned at school was how to play cricket, which was useful much later with so many sons. My mother dispatched me to Switzerland to learn French, but I ended up in the German part.”
A Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside and former High Sheriff, her dedication to St Helens also ranges from involvement in Clonter Opera, a charity to get school children’s interested in opera, to being president of St Helens Advanced Motorist Group.
As a director of St Helens World of Glass Museum, her latest project is to set up a Friends of the Museum. She said: “It’s vital that this important part of everyone’s history here is better known on Merseyside.”