Most Bathonians will be familiar with the blue, pink and white colours of this charity that adorn its retail shops around the city, or have spotted the tulip logo and name on the chests of runners in the annual Bath Half. Many of you will have also taken part or contributed to the regular events that they organise in Bath – from walks and charity auctions to street collections. Yet how many of you really know about this charity, one that has been an important part of the local community for almost 40 years?
We felt it was time to enlighten you on what exactly goes on just a few miles outside of the city centre, in the lovely village of Winsley, which is where you will find the bustling hub of the charity and hospice of which I speak – Dorothy House.
Who or what is Dorothy House? Dorothy House is the primary hospice care facility for the community in Bath, north and west Wiltshire and north east Somerset. They serve an area of around 700 square miles and a community of 500,000 people. But it’s more than just a hospice where people go to die – it’s where people go to live their life, however long, to the max! It’s a whole network of advice, support and activities for people diagnosed with a life limiting illness, as well as their family and friends.
The concept of a hospice has been around since the 11th Century but the pioneering service of providing care and support for the incurably ill came about through the work of Dame Cicely Saunders in the 1950’s.
Dorothy House was formed by one woman, Prue Dufour (nee Clench), in 1976, whose own experience as a nurse, and inspired by the St Christopher’s Hospice in London, drew her to open up her own home in Broomfield Road, Bath to terminally ill patients. As her services grew in popularity, so Prue had to expand. Firstly next door, and finally Dorothy House purchased the Sutcliffe School for Boys in the village of Winsley, where the hospice moved to in 1995. The name Dorothy House incidentally did not come from a patient, but chosen as “Dorothy” means “Gift of God”.
Although founded on Christian principles, Dorothy House welcomes any patients aged 18 years and older, whatever their beliefs. Next year (2016) the charity celebrates its 40th anniversary and there are lots of celebratory events in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled for these!
Anyone can call up and ask to take a tour around Dorothy House (or Dotty House as it’s affectionately known). It’s definitely worth it to understand more about what the facility provides, how much it does for the community at large as well as the patient’s within its care. Personally it’s good to go as it helps to break down any fears one may have about “hospices”, death and “palliative care”. Trust me…it’s not what you might be expecting at all!
You can get to Winsley either by Bus from Bath (Number 264 or 265) or by driving/cycling to the village. Coming from Bradford on Avon you follow the line of a 17th Century listed wall that is topped intermittently by 3 imposing Talbot’s (hunting dogs). Whichever way you come you are welcomed by a brand new entrance stone with “Dorothy House” carved upon it. This grey millstone was found hidden in shrub land in the grounds and was polished up and carved for the charity by James Long, a Stonemason of Trowbridge.
The building is a mix of old and new. Originally the main part of the house, where most of the administration offices now are, was a family home built in 1902. In 1953 the building was taken over and run as Sutcliffe School for Boys, before it was purchased in the 1990’s by Dorothy House and transformed into the place it is today. In 2006 two brand new wings opened at the site, which meant extension of the charity’s resources and offerings to its patients.
When you arrive you make your way from the car park through a pretty trellised walkway, surrounded by flowers and plants, some winding their way up the wood. The main entrance is the original stone porch of the old house, topped with a weatherworn crest, but through this you enter into a light bright Reception area where you are welcomed and asked to sign in.
All about there is information about the hospice, comfortable chairs to sit and relax in, and cabinets with patients’ and families’ work, toys and gifts for sale. One of the lasting impressions on me from Dorothy House were the cabinets dotted around filled with objects that patients and their families had made together. These “Creative Keepsakes” are a lasting legacy as well as the making of them being a therapeutic and bonding experience for all.
The main thing you notice walking about Dorothy House is there is an air of happiness. Everyone smiles at each other, laughter echoes around the building and every room is light, bright and airy, even those offices within the older part of the building. It’s a hive of bustling activity, whether in the fundraising department or the day patients’ craft room.
Dorothy House isn’t just about palliative care but it also offers respite for patients, somewhere their medication can be checked, or as a half-way house after an operation. Dorothy House is about finding ways to assist patients to manage their conditions, and to enjoy their life whatever lies ahead. It’s also a place that offers support and techniques for friends, families and carers of those who are ill. The main ethos is helping patients with what you CAN do, not what you can’t do.
There is an in-patient’s unit which provides 10 beds, as well as a room for partners or families to sleep in overnight. The day unit welcomes 11 patients daily who use the light bright spaces for art classes, music recitals and there are facilities provided so that patients can undergo physio, occupational and complimentary therapies. The day patients are picked up from their homes by volunteer drivers, so their day at Dorothy House means their family and carers can have some respite too.
Each patient is referred to the facility by their Doctor, Hospital or District Nurse. The next point of call is the Contact Centre where a triage nurse assesses what care can be given. For those patients without close family volunteer companions can be assigned to them, which is another thoughtful, and much appreciated touch, that along with the one to one care, makes Dorothy House so unique in the field of hospice care in the country.
As my guide, Emily, told me, Dorothy House offers the whole package – spiritual, psychological and physical care for the patient AND the family. It isn’t about what’s to come, it’s about the here and now and making the best of it!
Small elements of the school still remain. For example, the old gymnasium has been turned into a conference room, available to hire by the public, businesses and organisations. Now called the Bloomfield Suite, this ex-gym, along with The Roper Room are perfect to hire for conferences, training days or coffee meets.
Walking about Dorothy House, the transition between the old building and new wings is seamless, though you do notice the bigger windows on to the stunning vistas and the skylights provided in the new parts. Nothing feels clinical; everything feels warm and homely, with only small hints at the medical environment that we are in, such as alarm bells outside in-patient’s rooms or a wheelchair here and there.
In the Family room, everyone can relax, chat, and children can play and draw. Even those who want some peace and quiet to be with their thoughts this is also possible here at the hospice. A Quiet room is provided for those who need it, and the chaplaincy team are on hand if you need a chat. The vast grounds and beautifully kept gardens are also perfect as a place of reflection as you walk around.
It’s like one big family at Dorothy House – from staff, volunteers, and patients, everyone mingles, especially when it comes to eating! In the on-site restaurant, the chefs provide tasty, appealing and nutritionally balanced meals for all, and will go above and beyond to cater for any special dietary requirements people may have.
One of the major appealing factors of Dorothy House, apart from the one-on-one time given to each and every individual patient and their family, is the stunning views of the Limpley Stoke Valley that the house overlooks! Beautiful even in the rain as it was the day of my visit! Every single one of the bedrooms at the hospice has a view over the gardens and valley. The Chapel at the end of the Outpatient wing has enough room for a bed to be comfortably wheeled in so that a patient who is unable to walk can watch the sun rise from the panoramic windows.
There are around 24 specially trained Dorothy House Nurse Specialists who not only work within the Hospice but also have a portfolio of patient’s whom they visit at home. There are also 2 Outreach Centres, which are located in Peasedown St John and Trowbridge, where patients, carers and families can come to find out more information, share their stories, get advice and support. The charity even has their own allotment which is used by all – and currently they have over 35 different vegetables and fruits growing, some of which will be used by the restaurant.
Dorothy House also provides two self-contained Community Lodges where patients and their families can enjoy some private time together outside of the in-patient unit. This is very unique and one of only two hospices in the country currently to provide this facility. Nurses are on site but the lodges give more of a homely feel to a patient’s stay. Stays are usually around a week and are an alternative short term place of care for respite.
Giving people the option of dying in their own home is an important and valued part of Dorothy House Hospice Care. The Hospice at Home Team is made up of approximately 40 highly trained carers who are in high demand across the area Dorothy House covers. Hospice at Home enables the families and carers of those people in their last days or weeks of life a chance to have some respite, whether sleep at night or time to themselves during the day time, with the assurance that their loved one is being looked after. Emily informed me, “The cost of one night’s care is £205 and in 2014 our Hospice at Home team provided 17,570 hours of night care, all of this free of charge to the individuals.”
Of the 400 members of staff at Dorothy House (220 of these are part-time workers), the Hospice also couldn’t do its wonderful work without the help of over 1100 volunteers. Not only do these unsung heroes work within the retail shops out and about in the community, but there are also many people who volunteer their time to act as drivers, companions, fundraisers, gardeners, chefs and much more for the Hospice. They are always in need of more volunteers so take a look at the current vacancies and perhaps you can donate a few hours of your time to help others.
Everything Dorothy House Hospice Care provides is in fact FREE of charge, which is why donations and fundraising is an important element of the work done here at Dorothy House! It costs almost £9,500 a DAY to run Dorothy House and as such they are constantly looking for innovative ways to raise money to keep the facilities they provide running. £1.2 million of annual funding comes from the NHS but the remaining money is obtained through donations, events, legacies, the shops, investment income and of course community fundraising. Of this money, 92 pence of every pound is spent solely on the facilities Dorothy House provides.
Not only is there a weekly Lottery that you can join, but there are organised annual events for all the family in Bath and the surrounding areas, that include a Men’s Walk through Bath, Fire walking, a Santa Dash; and a Marquee Week at Dorothy House itself, filled with comedy, pampering and talks. Coming up in September is the ever popular 8km Bath Midnight Walk, and it’s not too late to register your place now!
You can also choose to create your own fundraising activities. Simply contact the Fundraising department to find out how you can go about this, and before long you’ll be jumping out of a plane like 79 year old Eric Ashman, chaining yourself to your best friend as Layla Bradfield and Sam Sudbury did for 12 hours, playing the spoons at different venues over a month like Jo May, or taking part in extreme ironing on Snowdon like local policeman Paul Langdon!
If you have a few hours spare in your week, maybe think about being one of the many valued Volunteers at Dorothy House. You can help out at one of the 28 retail outlets, or use your particular skills at Winsley or the Outreach Centres whether gardening, helping out at street collections, being a companion or offering administration assistance.
Most recently the charity has opened its newest venture in the heart of the city –Coffee House 76- the fantastic Vintage and Retro shop on Bridge Street, which has its own Coffee Shop situated above. Cakes are made fresh every day by the chefs at Winsley and the coffee is a blend of 100% Arabica beans, directly traded and then blended and roasted locally near to the hospice in Winsley. You can also find out more about the charity by picking up leaflets here or in any of their retail outlets.
Even if you’re just visiting the city but want to contribute to the amazing work done for the local community, why not spend a few pennies picking up a treasure in one of the eight Dorothy House shops located around the city, and after your shopping spree put your feet up and relax at Coffee House 76 with a well-deserved drink and slice of cake! You can also drop any spare pennies into the collection box in our 1846 Bar, so if you’re a guest staying with us, or popping by for a drink at The Royal Hotel, you too can contribute to this wonderful facility.
For further details of Dorothy House and how YOU can help, please either call 01225 722 988 or visit their brand new website HERE.
With thanks to Emily Knight, Events Fundraiser and all the staff at Dorothy House.
(Images copyright Catherine Pitt, Dorothy House, Zak’s Photography, Colerne Photographic Company)