Jillian Kempster Banner (1)
Jillian Kempster Banner (1)

Care Volunteer With A Heart Of Gold Invited To The Royal Garden Party At Buckingham Palace

Volunteer Jill Kempster was thrilled to be invited to the first ever garden party hosted by King Charles III at Buckingham Palace, recognising her hard work and dedication to the hospice sector.

The endless time and love she has dedicated to ellenor, its patients and their families impressed her colleagues there so much that they nominated her for the unforgettable day out.

Always humble and unaware of how she has touched so many hearts, Jill said: “I just thought why me? There are hundreds of people working in hospices and caring for people.”

The special invitation was a great opportunity for Jill to treat herself. She took some time out of her caring roles at the hospice and as grandmother to 32 and great grandmother to 13, to do some shopping at Bluewater.

She said: “I was 70 a couple of weeks before, so I was given a lot of vouchers. I bought a lovely royal blue lace dress and a pink fascinator and handbag!”

Jill and her daughter Kelly, who accompanied her on the trip, were buzzing with excitement from when they stepped into a taxi outside Jill’s house in Dartford.

“Getting onto the train, arriving at The Mall and then seeing everyone dressed up and looking glamorous was amazing,” said Jill. “We were standing in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and watching members of the Royal Family coming down the steps to greet people. King Charles stood right in front of me – it was exhilarating. He touched my hand and said he hoped we had not been waiting too long.”

Jill and Kelly also mingled with Queen Camilla and Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex – as well as American singer/songwriter Lionel Ritchie. It will be a day she will always cherish, and she has framed the replica of the invitation she was given by the palace as a memento.

It is an invitation that would never have come her way if it wasn’t for her decision five years ago to sign up as a ward volunteer at ellenor’s hospice in Northfleet.

She said: “ellenor has brought new meaning to my life and I feel like I am making a real difference.  A true win-win situation!”

Jill, previously assistant cook at Crown woods School in Eltham, first became involved with ellenor in 2016 when the hospice helped her care for her second husband Mick in his final days at home. Over a period of 10 years Mick had suffered three different cancers, a stroke and had the early signs of dementia.

She said: “It wasn’t until the ellenor nurses came out to us that I realised how much sleep I was missing, they looked after him while I went to bed, knowing he was in safe hands.”

After Mick’s death, Jill had bereavement counselling and then joined the charity’s bereavement groups, where she found solace and friendship.

She said: “Before long, I started to feel a bit better and wanted to give something back for all the care I had received.” 

When Jill signed up to be a ward volunteer at ellenor in 2018 she enjoyed making refreshments for the inpatients and their families but was itching to do more every time a call bell rang, so she was encouraged to take the Care Certificate. 

She said: “I think that from that first day I knew that I wanted to do something more for the patients than make tea and coffee. I had no idea if I would be good enough but thought I had nothing to lose.  I am the opposite of academic – I left school at 15 with no qualifications to look after my younger siblings.  When I saw the certificate coursework book, I panicked! 

“Luckily, I got fantastic support from some fantastic people and, here I am, a fully-fledged care volunteer.  Since then, I have worked with people with dementia, offered emergency respite and helped people at the very end of their lives. 

“I am never afraid to say when I don’t understand and there is always someone there to help me.”

Jill is looking forward to being able to get back to the ward now the volunteers are being allowed to return following the relaxation of Covid restrictions.

She said: “I’m only supposed to do a three-hour shift but sometimes I would be there for 12 hours. Once I get there I don’t want to leave until the next carers come to take over so I can make sure the patient is OK. I just can’t sit down; I’ll wash down all the equipment if there is nothing else to do.”

Once Jill surprised a patient by bringing him his favourite tipple, a brandy with ice, and watching the World Cup with him!

The tireless carer has even been out to patients’ houses to give exhausted relatives respite and offer comfort and support. She’s more than happy to put the vacuum cleaner round while she’s there; anything to ease the burden on patients and their families.

She has also provided company for day patients with dementia while their relatives are in meetings at the hospice. Senior complementary therapist Sally Baker has also taught Jill how to give hand and foot massages.

Joining her friends at ellenor’s Bereavement Cuppa at Glentworth Ex-Service Club in Dartford on a Thursday is still an important part of Gill’s week. As well as grieving for husband Mick, she also misses her dear friend John, who she met through the bereavement group and who also died in 2020.

She said: “I do find it hard when friends I have met and become close to pass away because it’s like suffering another loss. People ask me if I ever stop. I’m always helping people and busy doing things. I have always loved being with my family and friends, being nice to others and treating them with dignity and respect. I hope to continue what I’m doing for many years to come, as long as I am fit and able.”