A harbour, in the tempest

FAIRHAVENS’ HOSPICE was one of those charities which had always been around…or so I’d thought.

I suppose I’d realised that it was a fairly big, local charity, but to be honest – I’d never really taken any notice. You don’t, do you? When you’re a teenager, something like a Hospice….well, you’re not even sure what it is, or does. It just doesn’t interest you. Or rather, it didn’t interest ME.

It wasn’t until I’d became a Christian in the late ’80s, that I begun to take notice of it; perhaps, because it was a Christian hospice. Over the years which followed, I occasionally put some money in a collection-tin for them. One or two ladies at church would work for them – both in a paid, as well as a voluntary capacity. One of their charity shops opened in Southchurch Road, near me, and I suppose I began to wonder what it was like there – at the actual Hospice itself, I mean…I got the sneaky feeling that it was quite a special place. One of these days, I might get the chance to find out. I thought.

All this was sharply put into perspective one Thursday lunchtime, when my Christian Union at work invited along a guest speaker. It was a lady called Daphne and she seemed fairly high-up at Fairhavens. It was the autumn of 1997, and that Thursday lunchtime, in the Portcullis House recreation room was a remarkable time.

I’d heard about ‘holy’ people, but knew from experience that truly holy Christians were still rare. I’d heard about Peter Ball, the former Bishop of Lewes and how he – quite literally – ‘shone’ with the radiance of Christ. So I wondered if Daphne and her Fairhavens’ colleague were in the same league, as the two – especially Daphne – seemed so unusually gentle, kind and caring.

Through much hospital visiting over the years, I’d seen many a nurse encapsulate these qualities, but with Daphne, they seemed to be almost tangible. As she addressed the meeting, I felt a tremendous sense of peace, purely by listening to her.

Daphne has now retired to some extent I believe, and now lives in north Essex. I’m sure that her ‘air’ of lovingkindness has followed her there! I finally got the chance to visit the Hospice where she worked for many years, some time ago and I’m now in the fortunate (or rather, blessed?) position of going there, every fortnight – my wife and I will go to Sainsbury’s in the town centre, where we’ll fill up the car with free bread from the supermarket, before taking it to the main Fairhavens Hospice in Second Avenue – it’ll keep both them, and their children’s Hospice, Little Havens, in bread, rolls and doughnuts for two to three weeks at a time; it means the Hospices can direct a little of their annual budget, elsewhere.

Our thanks go to Sainsbury’s, for allowing us to do this.

But what is this place called Fairhavens? What does it do?

The vision of both Daphne and a (now retired) GP, Dr. Michael Stuart – formerly of Earls Hall and Belle Vue Baptist Churches, and now at Emmanuel Church, Hawkwell – the original Fairhavens has been open since 1982, and from it’s premises on the corner of Second Avenue and Chalkwell Avenue, has cared for over 18,000 patients and their families from the local areas of Southend, Castle Point and Rochford Districts.

It provides many services, including an In-Patient Unit, Day Care Centre, Community MacMillan Team, Hospice-at-Home, and Bereavement and Family Support.

Despite the high profile the Hospice has in the area, there are still many myths which surround hospices in general. The most unhelpful, is that they are “…places where people go to die.” On the contrary – they are places for people to live. They offer care care, support, advice and perhaps most importantly, reassurance for those facing cancer or other life-threatening illness.

Another myth is that they are ‘religious’ places, where you have to have a “certain faith”, to go there. It’s true that Fairhavens was originally founded by local Christians, who identified a need for hospice care in the local area, and that the charity works on Christian principles…indeed, in the past the charity has politely declined donations from the proceeds of gambling, or events such as ‘An Evening Of Clairvoyance’, as they did in 1999. Instead, the dedicated Chaplaincy team is very experienced in working with people of all faiths and none, and in supporting patients and their families in any way they need. A minister of any religion is always welcome to a patient, if needed.

Many people think that hospices are run by the Government, or by a local Primary Care Trust. It costs over £2.1 million to run Fairhavens’ Hospices each year – there is now, Little Havens Children’s Hospice as well – and yet only a quarter of this comes from statutory funding. The rest is generated by donations, fundraising events and shops, trusts and legacies. Fairhavens are immensely grateful for all such support, from the local area.

LOVE SOUTHEND hopes to focus on this vital work, in the coming months, as Fairhavens continues to love Southenders. But to find out more, or to book a speaker, please use the contact details with this news item.

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