Vanessa Banner
Vanessa Banner

Fundraiser and Trustee Dedicates 25 Years to ellenor

Vanessa held her 2023 garden open days in June and raised £2,309.

Former GP Vanessa Jeans is proud to say her local hospice charity has been pivotal to her working life and now her retirement.

As a doctor, she worked on the ward at ellenor’s hospice in Northfleet, then she started opening her garden each year to raise money for the charity – and now she has become an invaluable member of the board of trustees.

ellenor gives people a warm feeling – they can relate to it. When I ask shop keepers to put up posters for Glorious Gardens there is never any question; everyone knows ellenor.”

-Vanessa, ellenor Trustee and Fundraiser

Dartford born and bred, Vanessa has lived at the same address all her life and went to the Girls’ Grammar school next door. After graduating from university and teaching at the grammar school for six years, she decided to retrain as a doctor, studying at St Mary’s in Paddington, and gaining experience at Gravesend Hospital and at The Brook, Shooter’s Hill.

Her knowledge of health and medicine grew as she moved on from accident and emergency, paediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology to psychiatry; spending a total of two years at Joyce Green Hospital and Stone House. In 1991 she joined The Orchard Practice, part of Dartford West Health Centre.

It was while working at The Orchard Practice that Vanessa’s involvement with ellenor began – when she became part of a rota to cover weekday nights and weekends on the ward.

She said: “The hospice was looking for medics who would be on call. They had their own doctors, but there were not enough to cover nights and weekends. The nurses there were so brilliant and experienced. In many respects, they knew more than we did. Very often we were just needed to get something authorised.

“Working with the hospice was very educational and concentrated on palliative care. I learned an awful lot from the nursing staff there.”

-Vanessa, ellenor Trustee and Fundraiser

Vanessa worked with Dartford practice for 16 years until she decided to take early retirement.

She said: “I was in the lovely position of still enjoying my job when I retired; I was just going on to new things.”

One of the new things Vanessa embraced was ellenor’s Glorious Gardens fundraiser. A keen gardener since her 40s, Vanessa was happy to share her love of plants with friends and neighbours. Since her first garden opening in about 2010, she has raised more than £10,000 for ellenor.

She said: “When I was still working as a doctor, we used to have a barbecue in our garden every year and a lot of the staff said we should open it for charity. After I retired, I put it off at first, thinking I would open the garden once I had done this or that or improved a bed, but then I realised that no garden is ever perfect, so I decided to go ahead – and ellenor was the obvious choice.

“The first year, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I watched what was going on and what the ellenor fundraisers were doing -- and the event has developed over the years.”

Vanessa’s annual garden opening is now so organised that she barely needs ellenor’s help. Friends and relatives are always keen to do their part, taking money on the gate, baking cakes, serving teas or washing up. Among the visitors and helpers are Vanessa’s former patients and fellow members of Dartford U3A.

She said: “I can’t bake to save my life, but I put out a call to my friends and we always end up with a fabulous display of cakes.”

Although Vanessa’s husband Mike is not a gardener, he is responsible for keeping the hard landscaping in good condition, repairing paving and paths and installing and upkeeping the water butts. Vanessa’s many dragon statues are always a great attraction, and every year she sells an array of plants she has painstakingly grown from seeds and cuttings.

This year 140 people came through the gate and the event raised a staggering £2,309.

Vanessa knows just how important fundraising is, especially now ellenor has embarked on an exciting new project to extend the hospice and create a state-of-the-art new wellbeing centre at its site in Northfleet. In fact, she is looking forward to being an integral part of ellenor’s future since becoming a trustee in the Autumn of 2022. As a member of the care committee, she is certainly putting her medical experience to good use.

She said: “ellenor deliberately looks for areas of expertise, so we have ex solicitors, accountants, businessmen and women, people from HR and IT. We set the direction ellenor is going in, but it is the CEO and executives who plan ellenor’s strategy and tactics.”

Vanessa is delighted to see ellenor taking a holistic approach when caring for patients and their families and is relieved to see changing attitudes towards mental health.

She said: “I’m glad I have joined the trustees and hope I can offer something – now and into the future. I think the extension is fantastic. The hospice has to move forward and develop. Too many people still think it is somewhere people go to end their days, somewhere hidden away, but it is not that at all. The hospice is part of the community, and we need to reach out to all parts of that community as we move into the future.”

Vanessa held her 2023 garden open days in June and raised £2,309.