Having always lived in a busy suburb of London, with parents that worked in the city up to six days a week, we never really embraced the opportunity to become part of our local community. Therefore, I couldn’t appreciate and completely understand the true meaning and purpose of being in one until I was sixteen years old.
The Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice or ‘cottage hospice’ as it used to be called, was founded in 1985 by my great aunt Pat Jeavons. Not long before this, she was sadly diagnosed with cancer. She then made it her lifelong ambition alongside a close friend called Don, who had also been diagnosed with cancer, to set up a charity for other people within the community that were suffering from life threatening illnesses. The charity’s aim was to not only provide the correct medical care and day to day support to its patients but to also help their loved ones cope. Thirty years on, the hospice is still thriving and helping as many patients as it can. Although it stands in the shadows of much larger charities, it continues to help hundreds of terminally ill patients in London every day. Sadly, Pat Jeavons died in 1997, when I was still very young and her friend Don died in 2002. I remember her but unfortunately I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her before her death. However, my parents remember her like it was only yesterday and my dad encouraged me, when I was sixteen years old, to volunteer at one of the charities local shops on the high street.
This was when I started to understand the value and meaning of being part of a community. Every Friday and Saturday I witnessed the same customers, of all ages, visit the shop to not only seek out a bargain but to have a good old chit chat with myself and the other volunteers. I remember an elderly lady called Sylvie that used to visit us every Saturday at two o’clock without fail. First she’d do her weekly shop at Morrisons and then she would walk down the road to us with her trolley. Resting on top of the trolley would be a box of cream cakes for us volunteers. Even though we only ever ate one, she would always buy us too many and try and persuade us to eat the last one, saying that it would do us some good to get some extra meat on our bones. She used to ask me to go through the mountains of books and seek out some good reads for her and put them aside for when she arrived. She paid a pound for each book and would then donate them back to the shop the following week. Another two customers that I remember vividly, were two young girls called Hannah and Olivia. Hannah was twelve and Olivia was eight. Together they would walk from their foster home up the road, with a little bit of pocket money in their hands and ask us what they could buy with it. They were like sisters. I would raid through the shop’s games, toys and jewellery to find them something they might want. Their little faces would light up, especially if I came across a pack of top trumps, which was their favourite game to play. They would always buy something, no matter how small and they were so grateful every time.
Although the charity’s main aim was to provide care and comfort to its patients, it became clear to me that it offered so much more than that. It acted as a centre point for residents of all ages in the area to come together as a community. My time spent volunteering, not only at the shop but at the actual hospice itself, opened my eyes to the many amazing courageous people that surrounded me every day. It was clear how important this charity was in the lives of so many people. I’m so grateful to have been a part of it and so proud to have had such an inspirational and selfless woman in my family. What Pat Jeavons achieved throughout her many years of illness is truly remarkable and I loved every moment spent as a member of the community she created.