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Sister Bernadette's Memories

Sister Bernadette's Memories

Sister Bernadette Ghent, who along with Sister Carol Graham, Sister Agnes Ken and Sister Pat Morgan, worked for the charity before the hospice opened in 1991. Here are some of Bernadette’s memories from her first three years with the hospice:


Having been offered the posts of Ward Sister (Sr. Carol) and Receptionist/Administrator (Sr. Bernadette), we returned in mid-August to familiarise ourselves with Carlisle and the surrounding area. The Sisters at St. Gabriel’s Convent, Warwick Place, very generously have us accommodation until such time as we were able to make other arrangements. Two other Sisters from our Order were to join us later: Sr. Agnes who worked as Staff Nurse on the In Patient Section from May 1992 to May 1994 and Sr. Pat as a volunteer from October 1992 to September 1998.

We officially started worked for the hospice on 2 September 1991 – that is Margaret Dunne (Matron Manager) KenDewar (Fundraising Manager) Sr. Carol (Ward Sister) July Fisher (S.E.N. Sister in Charge of Day Care) Sr. Bernadette (Administrator and Receptionist. As the builder were still working at the hospice, we were given the use of an office by Unwin Jones Partnership, Architects, in The Maltings, from which to operate. We spend some days on team building and getting to know each other, also making tentative plans for the time when we would actually move in to the new building on Durdar Road.

At last the big day arrived, 13 September 1991 when the builders, Lambert Gill, officially handed over the keys of the Hospice to Mr. Peter Whitley, Chairman of the Hospice Management Committee.

Mr Whitley and the Committee had very kindly offered to let Sr. Carol and I have the use of the visitors bedrooms, bathroom and kitchenette as we had still not been able to secure suitable accommodation for ourselves. It was a great help to us and also a help to the hospice as we acted as caretakers and night watchmen for about two months until it was felt that it was sufficiently safe to leave the building overnight. On the first night we discovered that one of the external fire doors did not lock so we sealed it off with mattresses and tables until it could be attended to the following morning!

We were touched and amazed by the goodness and generosity of people. Everyone was anxious to help in any way they could and we started to make a list of names and addressed of those who wished to become volunteers at the hospice. Needless to say we were kept busy making tea and coffee for all our visitors, while Margaret Dunne, Dr Briggs and Ken Dewar took turns at showing them around. We were delighted to have Mrs. Cath Callaghan as our first member of the housekeeping staff, She was a wonderful help in clearing up after all our visitors and keeping the hole place spic and span.

On 2 October the building inspection took place. While all this was going on Sr. Carol was using her artistic talents to paint murals on the walls of what would be the children’s ward. Who would have thought then that in the years to come on this spot there would be a beautiful, modern unit solely for the care of children.

Donations in cash and kind started to pour in from local firms and individuals and we also had a flag selling day in aid of the hospice which Sr. Carol and I took part in. Sr. Carol has her pitch outside British Home Store and I stood outside Binns Department stores.

Margaret Dunne was keen to open the Day Care services so we had a busy time writing to all the General Practitioners to let them know that the hospice was open and that we would soon be in a position to accept patients for day care. Following this Sr. Carol and Julie were training-in the Day Care volunteers, while I trained-in my first reception volunteer, Mrs Maureen Galloway, who was an invaluable help to me in those early days and in the years following.

We celebrated the Dedication of the Hospice Chapel on Saturday 19 October.

It was full steam ahead then on the part of Margaret Dunne, Julie Fisher, and Sr. Carol to ensure that everything was ready for the opening of the Day Care Centre which took place on 24 October 1991.

We started off with four patients once a week on a Monday, and there were three volunteers to help with driving and generally looking after the patients. The patients seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves which was a joy to see.

The Duchess of Norfolk paid an informal visit on 25 October. She was a very charming person and very interested in the hospice.

The numbers coming to Day Care were gradually increasing and it soon became evident that we would have to provide this service more than one day a week.

The hospice had been in operation now over 2 months, and it was deemed safe enough to leave it unoccupied overnight so the 26 November saw Sr. Carol and I move our belongings to our new rented accommodation in Morton West, Carlisle, We ensured that everything was securely locked up for the night before we left – we probably checked everything three times before finally locking the main door!


Before a team building and future planning meeting with a Mr Matt Logan it became clear that we would not be in a position to open the In Patient Unit until July or thereabouts. Volunteers and relatives of patients were very generous in arranging small fundraising raising events which all would be a help in enabling us to finish the furnishing and equipping of the patients rooms in the In Patient section.

We had started having regular coffee mornings at the hospice in order to give people an opportunity to see what the hospice could offer and what we planned to be able to offer in the future. Mr Tom Crellin was a faithful hospice guide bringing different groups of people each week to these coffee mornings and delighting in showing them around. This had many spin offs and resulted in us receiving further donations in cask and kind to add to our funds. Local firms were very generous too and the more we became known the more we received. At the beginning of February Ken Dewar had arranged for Fiona Armstrong, I.T.N. newscaster, to come and give a talk on her work. 97 people attended and Ken was delighted with the response.

Margaret Dunne and Dr. Mike Briggs were also looking to the future and making plans for the day when the In Patient unit would be fully up and running. This involved arranging several session of training course for the many volunteers who had signed up.

Advertisements were being placed in the local papers for trained staff and this was followed by sorting applications and making short-lists and then arranging interviews. We received over 200 applications.

At the end of March 1992 we were delighted to receive a cheque for £50,000 from our local Health Authority – a great boost to our financial situation and a help t pay off the overdraft on the bank. This was followed by the news that Children in Need were going to donated £16,000 towards the payment of a salary for a children’s nurse.

By the beginning of May some hospital beds which had been donated arrived and also other furniture and equipment which had to be unpacked and checked. The signs were erected t the front of the hospice and come of our volunteers were hard at work in the garden putting in bedding plants and shrubs which had been donated. The coffee mornings became busier as the weeks went on as everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of the hospice before the In Patient Unit opened when such visits would not be possible.

At last the big day had arrived – 27 July 1992 when the first four patients were admitted to the In Patient Unit. All went very well, in fact, very smoothly. Dr. Briggs and Margaret were pleased with the day.

The nursing staff soon got into a good working routine and were well supported by Margaret, Sr. Carol and Dr Briggs who visited the hospice every day sometimes twice a day.

We had also started to take children for respite care using the room which Sr. Carol had painted with suitable murals on the walls. Usually it was just one child at a time and during the day she was often to be found in the little staff sitting room which looked out onto the fish pond. It was easier to keep an eye on someone there as the staff quite often had their tea break in that room.

Fundraising continued apace and training in of reception volunteers and day care volunteers. Rev. Dennis Donald, our chaplain who had been appointed several months previously, visited every time we had Day Care. Once the In Patient Unit was opened he became a daily visitor. He also held a weekly service for the patients in the hospice chapel. When he was on holiday or absent for any reason, it was a privilege for me to stand in for him. I also brought Holy Communion to the Catholic patients if they requested this and their own parish priest was unable to attend.

We held our first Memorial Service on Sunday 27 September for all those connected with the hospice who had died since we opened in October last year. Dennis had prepared a very moving service which the families greatly appreciated.

Some months previously several volunteers took part in a short bereavement counselling course from which a Bereavement Support Group was formed. We inaugurated a special coffee morning each Monday in the Day Care Lounge for relatives who had suffered a bereavement and who would like to come in and talk to a member of the group or simply share and chat with other bereaved people.


10 June was another big day in the hospice calendar. This was the day when Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Kent, formally opened the hospice. She was accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of the County, Sir Charles Graham.

On 6 July the Cumberland News and Gazette launched a special hospice appeal. They promised to give special news coverage and raise money for the upkeep of the hospice.

The hospice went from strength to strength with the Day Care sections now opening four days a week, the builders were hard at work on the new extension to provide more In Patient beds. The weather was very much against them as it had been a very wet summer so far, August 1993, fundraising events were a regular feature of the monthly routine and Margaret or Ken Dewar, and sometimes myself, went to various villages/towns around Carlisle and beyond to accept the money which had been raised. It was an opportunity to thank the people in person and to chare something of the daily life of the hospice. Discussions were also taking place about the possibility of the hospice setting up its own lottery.

1994 onwards

By February the new In Patient extension was ready and the staff were kept busy making up beds and getting everything ready. It was not long before the extra rooms were filled up.

I continued to work as receptionist until June 1996 when I was asked to return to our Motherhouse in Godalming to take charge of a Retreat Centre attached to the Motherhouse. It was a very sad day for me when I attended a farewell do in the lounge on 14 June and later drove out of the gates for the last time.

The five years I spent working there in contact with the patients and their families and getting to know so many people was one of the most wonderful and privileged experiences of my life. It was also a significant learning time for me.

In addition I had made many friends among the volunteers and others and we still keep in touch regularly. When I was going through our community diary to write these early memories, I was struck by how very full life was during those years and how much I had come to love the people of Carlisle, the Eden Valley and the beautiful Cumbrian countryside surrounding it – there were opportunities for exploring at the weekend which the other Sisters and I availed of to the full.