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Hospice Facilities Team Embraces The Spirit Of Christmas

Behind the scenes of ellenor’s Christmas sparkle is the facilities team – working tirelessly in the run-up to the festive period to make it special for patients, families and staff.

Maintenance supervisor Bob Shepherd and his team know how important it is to spread Christmas cheer around the hospice ward, communal areas like The Green, the offices and ellenor’s shops.

He said: “The whole process takes eight to ten weeks from start to finish. Just like the nurses and the doctors, we never stop. It’s 24/7 and it’s a routine we follow every year.”

One of the main attractions is the outdoor tree, a permanent feature outside the hospice all year round – and decorated at Christmas with hundreds of sparkly lights.

Bob said: “It has traditionally always been part of our Lights of Love ceremony, which attracts three to five hundred people. Because of Covid we were not able to invite people last year, but it was very popular virtually, and I’m sure it will be the same again this year. We do everything we can to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for everyone.

We have hundreds of lights and of course everything has to be PAT tested. Unfortunately, we have a fox here who likes to come out at night and chew on the wires!

“We have had a very strange 15 months at the hospice as two of my team members were furloughed until three or four months ago. And of course, we lost people like our volunteer gardeners. Thankfully they are starting to come back in again now.”

Bob, who has worked at ellenor for 13 years, says it’s time to look forward, and plans are already in full swing for this year’s Christmas celebrations.

He said: “At the end of November, we get the decorations and Christmas trees out of storage for staff to put up in their various departments.”

A lovely big tree is donated each year by Springhead Nurseries – and it is the centrepiece inside the hospice, for all to admire on The Green. It takes the facilities team hours to design, decorate and produce the “wow” factor visitors have come to expect.

Bob said: “We put it in a big bucket filled with sand and pea shingle and we decorate it with lights, lots and lots of baubles, as well as little presents for the patients. We also decorate the whole of The Green area with tinsel and hanging baubles.”

And the decorations don’t end there. Many of the patients and their families ask for help decorating their own rooms on the ward, and Bob and his team are always happy to oblige.

He said: “Often they bring in a small tree from home and some decorations and we are always happy to help out. We often get called to patients’ rooms and they are all talking about Christmases they have enjoyed together in the past.

“It’s nice to keep the ward Christmassy – the staff decorate the nurses’ station too.”

Bob and his team will also be clearing the way for a Christmas party for patients on The Green.

He said: “Pre-Covid, we would have 20 to 25 people celebrating on The Green over a two-day period. This year things will be kept small – a maximum of 10, but they will still have lots of fun.”

And the Christmas preparations are not just confined to inside the building. Before the Covid restrictions, ellenor held a very popular Christmas Fair each year.

Bob Said: “We would normally be clearing the garden of tables, chairs and large pots and putting up a big marquee – and we’re really hoping all this will be able to happen again next year. Fingers crossed!”

The facilities team is made up of Bob, two part-time members of staff Les Harris and Pete Evans, and facilities and procurement co-ordinator Wendy Lidbury-Bunsell. They come under the umbrella of the Facilities Department and their work ranges from repairing beds, hoists and wheelchairs to maintaining the garden and the charity’s fleet of vehicles and 13 shops.

They have a very varied diary at Christmas time and part of their remit is often to deliver food parcels to patients.

Bob said: “The hospice often gets these donated. It’s often when food parcel companies have stuff left and they offer it to us – it’s all good food that lasts. Often they go to people looked after by our children’s team and to patients who don’t come into the hospice.”

The staff and volunteers in ellenor’s shops get very creative with their shop window displays at Christmas – and Bob and his team are always on hand to help out if needed.

Like all the hospice teams, the facilities department has staff working every day, but they will have a well-earned break on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. However, Bob will still be having his family Christmas lunch on Boxing Day this year.

He said: “My partner Jennie works for the hospice in the Homecare Team. As she often works on Christmas Day it has become a tradition for us to celebrate with the family on Boxing Day!

“On January 3rd it will all start again here in reverse, taking down the decorations and putting them back in storage for the following year. We take down the tree on The Green and recycle it for our garden compost heap.

“We all enjoy the Christmas atmosphere at ellenor and it’s lovely to see patients joining in and singing songs. Although it can be quite sad knowing for some patients it could be their last Christmas, it is always such a joyful occasion for them and for their families.

“We are lucky in facilities that no two days are the same and that we have such a rewarding job, knowing we are helping people. And later next year work will begin on the extension for the Wellbeing Centre. We’re looking forward to watching the whole process and seeing ellenor move into the future.”