Patrons: Bill Beaumont, Mark Lawrenson & Tisha Merry Reg Charity No: 512186

Pat and Viv’s special bond blossomed through the St Catherine’s Hospice befriending service

Two women brought together through St Catherine’s Hospice tell how befriending has changed their outlooks on life – and why others should consider getting involved with the charity’s worthwhile service.

Viv Watmough and Pat Nagle have known each other for more than three years, after their shared interest in animals and jigsaws saw them paired up by the St Catherine’s Hospice befriending service.

Viv lives alone in Coppull, and suffers from a number of conditions which limit her mobility, including emphysema (a lung disease which affects her breathing and requires her to be on oxygen), and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Carers come to her home four times a day, but if it wasn’t for her weekly visits from Pat, she would have no-one to call a friend.

Viv says: “I was very depressed before I met Pat because I never really saw anyone; I was incredibly lonely. It’s hard to get out because of my mobility issues, so I was feeling very low. Friends from the past have moved away, and my son lives out of the area so he visits as often as he can, but I hardly saw anyone to talk with.

“Now I have Pat’s visits to look forward to, and it has made such a difference to how I feel. I can open up to her, but mostly it’s just nice to have someone to chat with. It keeps me going.”

Viv had open heart surgery and a heart valve replacement following a heart attack, and admits she’s never really gotten over the ordeal. She can’t walk very far because of her conditions as she gets short of breath easily, and she also struggles with eating and drinking caused by bowel problems.

Pat’s lifestyle differs greatly from Viv’s – she lives in Lostock Hall and enjoys travelling, looking after her horse and dog, and spending time with her grandson. If it wasn’t for the hospice’s befriending service, the pair would never have crossed paths and developed such a special friendship.

Pat’s no stranger to the difficulties of dealing with health problems though, after being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a double mastectomy in 2009.

It was shortly after that she began volunteering with St Catherine’s, and she has been a befriender ever since the scheme was set up in 2011. The service was initially set up to offer full-time carers a break to see friends and family, carry out chores such as shopping, and attend appointments.

But it soon became apparent that the patients themselves got a lot out of the befrienders’ visits too, and so Viv became the first befriendee who doesn’t have a full-time carer. The service is now available for anyone who lives alone with a palliative diagnosis and is much-valued by both the carers and patients who use it.

Viv was introduced to the service after attending Day Therapy at the Lostock Hall hospice. The weekly sessions, delivered over a 12-week programme, give people the chance to see the charity’s specialist nurses and doctors, take part in activities, access complementary therapies, and spend time with other people in similar circumstances.

“I enjoyed Day Therapy and meeting new people, and then I was accepted by the befriending service and Pat came along,” she says. “She’s been a life-saver really. I’ve got my confidence back thanks to Pat; I don’t feel so alone anymore, I know I can count on her visits to look forward to. The befriending service makes such a difference to people like me – I felt like I had nowhere to turn, but now I have a friend.”

Befrienders spend a couple of hours each week keeping people company. They are not required to do any personal care for the patients or carry out practical tasks such as housework.

“Most of the time we just chat, sup tea and eat chocolate,” Pat explains. “We talk about Viv’s cats and she also collects dolls so I bring some of those down from the upstairs bedroom and we have a look at them. We also enjoy jigsaws and crosswords, and the time actually goes quite fast. We have a laugh and have some fun together. I think she’s amazing.

“Sometimes we go for a walk using the wheelchair and she tells me all about the history of the area. We enjoy having a little nosey at people’s front gardens, admiring the plants and flowers. We always seem to find new things to talk about.

“If I’m on holiday, another befriender will step in, which is nice for Viv because it gives her someone new to get to know for a couple of weeks. I also do holiday cover for other befrienders and I enjoy the variety and meeting people from lots of different backgrounds with various interests and stories to tell.”

She adds: “Befriending is a commitment, but it’s so worthwhile and such a privilege. People are welcoming you into their homes and opening up to you, and it’s very humbling. You don’t always know what to expect when you go to a new house, but it’s not a scary experience; it’s very special. It gets you out of the house and it makes you a better person.”

Following her mastectomy, Pat wanted to support a local cause which helps people affected by life-shortening conditions, and started volunteering with the St Catherine’s bereavement group in 2010. She was one of the first to sign up as a befriender when the service launched a year later.

“It just sounded like such a worthwhile project to be involved with,” she explains. “I attended a training session at the hospice and learnt more about it. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly, and I knew I’d made the right move. I’d highly recommend giving it a try.”

St Catherine’s is hosting a series of training sessions for potential new befrienders this month, in an effort to recruit more volunteers. People are invited to the hospice on January 29, 30 or 31 from 9.30am to 4.30pm to find out more about the service and getting involved.

The hospice’s Family Support Manager, Cheryl Scott, explains: “There’s no obligation to sign up after attending a training session – it’s a great opportunity for people to find out more about the service and to see if it’s the right role for them.

“Befrienders get a say in who they are partnered with. We aim to pair people up based on shared interests and where abouts they live, but it’s also nice for people to get to know someone who has a very different background to themselves and learn about different cultures and lifestyles. It opens people’s eyes and establishes relationships which otherwise wouldn’t have developed in every day life.”

She adds: “Along with our specialised medical and nursing care, our aim at St Catherine’s is to help our communities support each other, and provide people with the skills and advice to help out their friends, relatives and neighbours who may be going through a difficult time.

“The befriending service is a perfect example of how the care of the hospice extends out into the community, and we’re really keen to get more volunteers on board to enable us to provide support to even more people across Central Lancashire throughout 2018.”

To find out more about the volunteer befriending service and to book a place on the upcoming training sessions, please call the Family Support Team on 01772 629171 or email familysupport@stcatherines.co.uk.