Anonymous donors go public as Lancaster hospice's new family centre opens

A new centre aimed at helping families through bereavement has officially opened in Lancaster, thanks to the generosity of a couple who had up until now remained anonymous.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Wednesday, 1st June 2022, 5:03 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1st June 2022, 5:23 pm

The Forget Me Not Centre at St John’s Hospice will provide whole family bereavement support for families in north Lancashire, the South Lakes and parts of North Yorkshire, both at the centre and out in the community; in homes and supporting schools.

Research carried out by Lancaster University, together with feedback from patients, families and staff, found individual family members often go to different services, organisations or counsellors for their support.

Yet the research also found that the most effective type of therapy is when the whole family can be together, and up until now there has been none available free of charge in the local area.

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Pictured from left, donor Nick Scholes, chair of the trustees Chris Heginbotham, donor Barbara Scholes, vice chair of the board Mark Cullinan, chief executive Sue McGraw, patron Pam Barker and the High Sheriff of Lancashire Martin Ainscough at the official opening of the new Forget Me Not Centre at St John's Hospice, Lancaster. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

The Forget Me Not Centre, which officially opened today, Wednesday, will offer a safe and trusting environment for families and individuals to get support in a space away from home and the main hospice building.

The centre will provide a range of therapeutic support for children and families, as part of a group, or through one to one time, to help develop coping skills.

Family therapy could include arts and crafts, outdoor activities, creative play and spending family time together.

The building has space for private therapy rooms, as well as group areas with TVs and Playstations, a separate IT suite, and kitchen areas on both floors, as well as outdoor space.

There will also be ways for children to create physical ways to remember the ones they love, such as putting together memory boxes, and support groups will help children to share their experiences and ​know they’re not alone.

Each experience of grief is different, so support from the Forget Me Not Centre will be built around the needs of individual children and families.

The centre will initially work with patients, people and families known to St John’s Hospice because they are caring for a family member. They are already supporting schools in the area with staff training and group sessions for pupils who have experienced different types of bereavement.

Chris Heginbotham, chair of the hospice board of trustees, said the idea came about during a planning meeting in April 2019 which discussed gaps in the service.

After the university research backed their theory that more family support was needed, the first seeds were planted which would go on to become the new centre.

"The research clearly showed that the importance of keeping children and families together in their grief was very much missing,” Chris said.

"There was a gap in local service provision and we were very keen to find a way and a place to do this work.”

The building, which is in the hospice’s grounds in Slyne Road, was generously funded by Nick and Barbara Scholes, who had up until now remained anonymous.

The couple had previously supported the hospice in other ways – including buying two new cars, paying the rent on the Lancaster hospice shop for a year, and even covering the cost of a doctor’s salary for a year – but had recently decided they wanted a bigger project to back.

"I have always felt I wanted to do something as a legacy to Lancaster, and rather than leave a sum of money in a will I would rather do something now that we can see the legacy of and get some pleasure seeing other people having some benefit from it,” Nick said.“I think it loooks absolutely fantastic and we hope it will make a real difference to many people’s lives. When I see it being utilised I will feel very proud.”

"The Forget Me Not Centre is Nick and Barbara’s legacy and we cannot thank them enough for what they have given not only to St John’s but to the many children and families who we will be able to support in this amazing healing space,” Chris added.

Hospice chief executive Sue McGraw said: “It’s a very proud moment and also a little bit humbling when I think about the help we have had to build this.

"We will be able to help families pre and post bereavement to stay together at a time when they really need to be.”

Support also came in the form of grant funding from HSBC, Nationwide, EDF, Kendal Lions and Smile for Smithy.