Hospice Care Week is a chance to celebrate hospice care nationwide, and the incredible work that is being done to make sure everyone can benefit from the very best end of life care.
From nurses, doctors, and social workers to volunteers, cleaners, therapists, hospice staff provide compassionate care for people at the end of their life, and support for those who are left behind.
We hear from Graham about his volunteer role at Thames Hospice, and how it’s given meaning and fulfilment to the twilight of his gardening career.
"I wanted to see if I could help them"
Graham Stone is being interviewed for a video Hospice UK is making to celebrate the therapeutic benefits of gardens for hospice patients, their families, and hospice staff. It’s a bright, sunny day in July, and along with the acres of wildflowers and wetlands around him, he is radiating warmth and positivity.
But throughout the course of his interview, Graham keeps coming back to one theme in particular: why he loves his role.
We asked him how he found himself in his role at the hospice. “It was after qualifying as a forester”, says Graham, “I just couldn’t deal with cutting down healthy trees for profit. So I ended up training as a gardener instead, and getting a job in the gardens at Torbay Hospital.”
That was to be the start of an illustrious gardening career – with one very famous employer:
“Having worked at Coleton Fishacre [now a National Trust property] in Devon, I found myself at an interview for a gardening job at Windsor. It turned out that it was working for Her Majesty The Queen at Windsor Castle! So I did that for just over 40 years. When I thought I had retired, The Queen then asked me to stay on to look after her aviary.
“At Windsor Castle we’d done some work with Thames Hospice at their former facility and I thought that when I retired, I'd see if I could help them.”
Creating enjoyment for others
Graham explains what it is that he gets out of his role at Thames Hospice:
“When you have patients coming in, they literally make their way towards the flowers and the water. So that's what keeps me going – it’s getting the bees and the butterflies around the plants.
"We get that movement, and it gives patients a nice distraction. You can see them engaging, and it gives them that little bit of reassurance that they're okay at the moment. That's what really pushes me forward."
“Being hands on in gardening, I knew I was planting for the future. You get that lovely feeling that you're creating something that others can enjoy, not just yourself. So it's a great thing to do. I love it.”
‘So many people here try to make lives better'
Like many hospices, there is a warm sense of familiarity for Graham at Thames Hospice – one which is cultivated by the close bond between staff and patients. It’s something which energises him every day:
“Thames Hospice” says Graham, “is like a giant family. It's such a lovely feeling – I love coming in to volunteer. The alarm clock goes off, not a problem. There are just so many people here trying to make people's lives just that little bit better in a very difficult time.
"I get a great feeling when people visit our gardens, admiring the flowers and the wonderful lakeside views. You can see that they are taking it all in and enjoying everything.”
‘Everybody’s led a life…you just listen’
Graham spends a lot of his time getting to know patients in his role as a volunteer. He says that his greatest joy is having the privilege of being on their personal journey:
“When you're talking to them, you're not talking about their illness – but you get to know them hear about their life. Everybody's led a life…you just listen and it's a total privilege. So lovely.”
"They just knew how to do it. And they were just so helpful. When my father passed, they were just fantastic in helping me to deal with my grief. It's almost like God given, the way they treat people.”
What inspired Graham to get involved
When Graham’s father was admitted to a hospice in Surrey, Graham said that he felt terrified that it would be ‘an incredibly sad experience. But thanks to the excellent hospice staff, it turned out to be completely different:
“I just thought it would be awful. But I went in and I didn't get any feeling of moroseness at all. It was happy, vibrant... the staff knew how to deal with people."
The innate understanding of how to treat people is something that Graham says he sees every day at work in the hospice:
“I see it all the time – in fact, there's not a place you don't see it. Like in the Hospice Wellbeing Centre. You just see members of staff dealing with people, giving them dignity, not treating them like children or anybody different. You see it throughout the hospice, whether it's at the bedside or not. It's just lovely to see.”
Thank you to Graham for sharing his experiences for Hospice Care Week, and to the National Garden Scheme, for their longstanding support to the hospice sector. Find out more about Graham's work - and the support of the NGS - below.
The Magic of Garden Therapy in Hospice Care
“When you have patients coming, they just walk out and you can see a little bit of weight coming off. This environment is so special…the whole context of the garden…it just gives them that little bit of reassurance that they’re OK at the moment.”
Graham, and Thames Hospice patient, Stephen, discuss how the hospice’s stunning gardens and diverse wildlife have an immense therapeutic effect on their day-to-day lives.
About Hospice Care Week 2023
Hospice Care Week is a chance to celebrate hospice care nationwide, and the incredible work that is being done to make sure everyone can benefit from the very best end of life care. This year we're focusing on workforce, under the theme: ‘We are hospice care’.
Hospices support more than 300,000 people every year. But the need for hospice care is growing. There aren’t enough people to fill the roles we need to look after dying patients and their families. Without people to fill these empty roles, hospices will struggle to keep providing the gold-standard end-of-life care everyone deserves.
That’s why, this Hospice Care Week, we're celebrating everyone that makes hospice care what it is. Read more stories like Graham's, below.
Surjit’s Story: volunteering in Advance Care Planning
From GP to hospice doctor: how grant funding transformed Katie’s career
Calley’s Story: why I work at a hospice
‘It gave me back my confidence’: how an MCF hospice bursary inspired Alison