Will hospice ever be built? Donations top £2m, but goal may be impossible
PUBLISHED: 09:18 01 November 2018 | UPDATED: 11:40 08 November 2018
Concerns have been raised over the use of more than £2m donated by the public to a charity bid to open a new hospice on Norfolk's coast.
A bid was launched in 2007 by East Coast Hospice (ECH) to raise the funds needed for a new 10-bed building in Hopton-on-Sea to care for the dying.
However, questions have been asked of the effectiveness of the appeal as, a decade later, the amount of cash needed has risen from an initial target of £3m to £5.2m, of which only half has been raised.
Meanwhile, according to the latest accounts the charity raised just £62,194 in 2016/17 after the costs of running its shops and paying its staff are stripped out.
This means that at its current rate, it would need more than 40 years to find the remaining £2.6m.
Today, both a former chairman of the charity and the Charity Commission raised their fears over the project, with the regulator urging trustees to consider the viability of their plans.
However, ECH chairman Jennifer Beesley said she was “confident” it would still go ahead and be open by November 2020.
She said: “Do you think I’d be here [if the project was not viable]? This is going to happen.”
Norfolk has a chronic lack of palliative care beds and when fundraising began for the hospice in 2007 the charity said it would cost £3m to build and open by 2010.
But by 2009 this had risen to £5m and it was hoped the hospice would open by 2011/12. Another six years later it still has not got off the ground.
ECH has bought 7.5 acres of land at Sidegate Road in Hopton for the facility, carried out ground work, and secured planning permission in perpetuity - which means it does not ever expire. It has also opened 15 charity shops across the region to help raise the cash.
Accounts for 2016/17 show it brought in £512,319 from donations, shops and investments.
But the vast majority of this income, 83pc, was used on attempting to generate even more cash through its shops and raising donations.
More than £375,000 was spent on raising donations and trading activities and an extra £73,744 was spent on what charity documents described as “charitable activities” of management, finance and governance costs. This means only a small percentage of what people donate is being put towards the building.
David Wright, the former director of social services at Norfolk County Council and former chairman of the James Paget Hospital, said: “They’re spending so much money on raising money and not achieving very much.
“At this rate I don’t believe that they ever going to be able to build the hospice and they are not going to be able to run it.”
He said while he recognised the people behind the bid were acting in good faith, he felt it was disingenuous to continue to raise money towards the project if it was impossible to achieve.
Mr Wright added: “You can’t defend for every £3 raised £2 of it going back into the administration.”
He said people would eventually question the “endless fundraising” and “wonder what is happening to their money”.
He said: “When will they say they are not going to do it?”
The appeal comes at a time when care for the dying is under close scrutiny. Although health leaders say there are a lack beds to care for the dying in the east - with estimates suggesting up to 82 more are needed - the NHS is actually looking to move away from people dying in hospitals and hospices.
Where possible they want people to die at home - which organisation Dying Matters says is the preference of 70pc of people - and this raises potential question marks over who would fund the hospice when opened.
It is estimated the hospice would cost £2.5m a year to run, but Mrs Beesley said funds would come from the charity shops, with new ones opening in Holt and Saxmundham soon.
She added: “We need 20 to 25 shops to fund the hospice for running it. They can vary from bringing in £500 to £700 a week to £2000 to £3000 a week, and if it was not for our shops we could not have done what we’ve done.”
But David Nettleship, who stepped down as ECH chairman in May 2013, also raised his concerns, saying: “It always was a difficult project. The capital funding was difficult, the revenue funding was even more difficult and it wouldn’t work without the support of the primary care trust.
“At the point when I realised we were not going to get that I felt there was not a viable project and I felt they should not have purchased the land.
“As a charity you have to question every year what you are doing. In my heart I think the public is being deceived.”
But Mrs Beesley and ECH vice chairman Bridget Lowe denied that was the case and said money had been spent as it was raised.
For many years there was tension between ECH and Palliative Care East (PCE), a separate charity hoping to build a 10-bed hospice at the Louise Hamilton Centre on the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) site.
Last year, when commissioners signalled they would not fund the PCE beds, ECH laid claim to the donations they had received. But that did not happen.
The Charity Commission said there could be a number of reasons a charity had low expenditure, such as building up reserves for future projects.
Charities which gather income through means such as charity shops do tend to have a lower charitable income spend.
But a spokesman added: “The public rightly expect charities to fund good causes that bring support to the people they are set up to help. Clearly, it is not ideal for charitable funds to lie idle when there are people in need.
“We expect the trustees of East Coast Hospice to carefully consider the future viability of their plans. If the purpose of charitable funds raised becomes unachievable, charities may need to seek advice from the commission about the transfer of assets.”
Documents also showed that in 2016/17 the charity’s “long-standing architect” quit and it also had to find new accountants.
Mrs Beesley said vast sums had been saved by doing things themselves and thanks to generous donations of work. She gave an example of leaflet design and printing being quoted at £7,000 but by designing it in house it cost just £700 to print.
“In the last few years we’ve worked very hard to make us a credible charity, not a one-man band, I wanted to make sure this charity was on a sound footing for the future, we have done that,” she said.
She also said it took twice as long to raise money in deprived areas.
Mr Wright added: “If someone can produce a hospice then that is fantastic but we have to temper that with reality.”
He said the idea of a hospice on the east coast could work if it was funded by the NHS.
Retired surgeon Hugh Sturzaker, who was initially a supporter of PCE, added: “There is not a hospice in the country which does not rely on the NHS to help with the running costs yet I have been told repeatedly by the CCG that it is not their intention to support the East Coast Hospice.”
The CCG would not confirm whether they intended to put any funding towards the cost of either building or running ECH.
Mr Sturzaker added: “I appreciate that great work has been done to raise money for the East Coast Hospice but I am concerned that the majority of it seems to go on expenses and little is being saved for the capital cost of the building. Even if the capital is raised to build it where will the money come from to run it?”
“I appreciate that great work has been done to raise money for the East Coast Hospice but I am concerned that the majority of it seems to go on expenses and little is being saved for the capital cost of the building. Even if the capital is raised to build it where will the money come from to run it?”
Mrs Beesley said the project would go ahead, regardless of NHS support.
“We have not sat here doing nothing,” she said. “It will happen, I promise you faithfully.”
Editorial: The EDP says...
For those who raise money for charity, it is a selfless and time consuming task which rarely attracts much thanks.
That is no different for those on the ground fundraising for the East Coast Hospice appeal, as well as those in the charity’s management.
But it is right that questions have been asked over how likely it is for the end result to come the fruition.
When the good people of Norfolk have donated to charity shops, taken part in daring skydives, and ploughed hours into events designed to rake in cash for the 10-bed hospice, it is vital to be assured the £2.6m raised so far will be spent how it was intended.
There is nothing to suggest anyone at ECH is acting with anything but good faith and an ideal to make things easier for those with terminal illnesses, as well as their families.
But good will is not always enough, it has to be that the project is still viable too, and that is where the concern lies.
It is difficult to raise money for anything in a time where budgets are stretched and Norfolk’s families are needing to hold on to every penny. So the effort which has gone in so far must be applauded.
But if it is not possible for this hospice dream to be realised, especially as the NHS does not seem interested in putting any money towards the scheme, it is not fair to continue to take the public’s money.
This newspaper will always support those who want to make big changes in our community, and we have many examples of little ideas which end up making an colossal difference to the lives of many. But with that comes a responsibility to recognise if things do not go to plan.