OPINION: How some good can come from East Coast Hospice Appeal funds

Artists impression of planned East Coast Hospice Margaret Chadd House

An artist's impression of the planned East Coast Hospice Margaret Chadd House - Credit: East Coast Hospice

Judging by the news reports and letters in this paper, disquiet is being shown again about the future of the East Coast Hospice Appeal that centres on providing a 10-bed new facility for Great Yarmouth and Waveney.

This has now heightened with the news that appeal chairman and founder Jenny Beesley has resigned from her role amid acrimony.

Along with her co-workers she has laboured tirelessly for many years trying to deliver on the promise to the local people, who have donated over £2m, that the hospice can become a reality.

But the signs are not promising that it will ever happen and palliative care provision for the coast has improved since the ECH appeal was launched some 15 years ago.

In 2019 East Coast Community Healthcare won a seven-year contract worth £207 million to deliver care, including palliative, in Yarmouth and Waveney and in partnership with St Elizabeth Hospice uses six specialist beds in Beccles Hospital.

Three years ago, the appeal (ECH) told the media its plans to build Margaret Chadd House on a field it had purchased on the Hopton/Gorleston border close to the James Paget Hospital would be up and running by November 2020. When fundraising began in 2007 the charity said it would have the hospice operational by 2018, but three years later the finances are no further forward.

An artist's impression of the new Priscilla Bacon Hospice. Photo: Priscilla Bacon Hospice

An artist's impression of the new Priscilla Bacon Hospice. Peter Franzen asks if East Coast Hospice funds could be transferred to boost the Norwich hospice - Credit: Priscilla Bacon Hospice

Indeed, the charity’s latest accounts reveal it made a loss of £74,500 in the year 2019-2020 taking in the first month of the pandemic, with its shops costing more to run than they made.

This has led one of its leading supporters Malcolm Metcalf, who has raised tens of thousands of pounds, to say he has lost faith in the organisation, adding the money should be handed over to a different appeal if it has any prospect of being used as it was intended.

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It has been calculated it will take another 40 years to raise the now £5.2m required, using the £62,000 raised in 2016/2017 as a baseline. Even if exceptional fundraising is achieved going forward and that time can be cut by half, it is still many years into the future.

Then there is the question of whether the necessary funds can be raised for the operation of the Gorleston project. The costs of running it are equally daunting, if not more so, than the capital funding challenge.

Launch celebration at the East Coast Hospice site on the edge of Gorleston.The hospice is named th

Jenny Beesley, who has recently stepped down as chairman of the East Coast Hospice Appeal

Mrs Beesley has often said she wanted the Margaret Chadd Hospice to be independent and not connected with the NHS. The prospect of that is a huge mountain to climb, and on present evidence unlikely to be achievable within the financial capability of the charity to raise millions of pounds year in and year out for the life of the hospice.

Mrs Beesley told the media: “The ball rests in the hands of the people of Great Yarmouth and Waveney. If they do not want the hospice that is ok with us. We will close the charity down and sell the land, and it won’t go to a local charity either because there isn’t one.”

But that isn’t quite the case.

The Priscilla Bacon Hospice in Norwich also serves the people of Great Yarmouth and Waveney. It is running an appeal to build a state-of-the-art hospice, with double the number of beds, on a new site close to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital with progress well advanced.

The Priscilla Bacon Hospice appeal ended 2019 with an announcement it had raised £5 million of the £12.5 million fundraising target to build the new specialist hospice for Norfolk and Waveney. Since then, despite the cancellation of fundraising events and the closure of its shops during both lockdowns, over £7.1 million has now been raised.

If there is no real prospect of the ECH facility being built, would it not be the right and honourable thing to transfer the cash and land assets of its appeal to Priscilla Bacon, so the money that was given in good faith can be used as it was intended?

Peter Franzen for pic byline

Peter Franzen - Credit: Archant

It might not be a hospice in Gorleston, but it would help speed the opening of another hospice that can serve the people of Great Yarmouth and Waveney sooner rather than much later, if at all.

This would not be an admission of defeat by ECH and its supporters, quite the opposite. Something positive and tangible can come out of all their hard work and enthusiasm. It would be an example of selflessness for the greater good, by recognising that while their vision is likely out of reach, all their efforts can still bear fruit and help secure desperately needed hospice care just 20 miles away.

And perhaps the Priscilla Bacon Hospice could mark this by using the name of that tenacious advocate for the bereaved, Margaret Chadd, for one of the areas in its new facility.

Peter Franzen is a former editor of the EDP who spent 10 years, following his retirement, working as a board member of the James Paget University Hospital and then North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group.