Why Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre is coming to Yorkshire

Maggie’s Yorkshire is due to open in the grounds of St James’s, Leeds, in 2017

Maggie’s Yorkshire is due to open in the grounds of St James’s, Leeds, in 2017 - Credit: Archant

Why we should all dig deep to ensure Yorkshire people get the cancer support they deserve. Words by Jo Haywood

Nutrition advice and practical courses are essential ingredients on Maggie’s menu of care

Nutrition advice and practical courses are essential ingredients on Maggie’s menu of care - Credit: Archant

When the worst happens, Maggie’s door is always open. The kettle is invariably on, there are biscuits in the tin – nice ones too – and there is always someone on hand for a consoling chat.

The first Maggie’s cancer care centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996. There are now 18 across the UK and abroad, with more in the pipeline, including Maggie’s Yorkshire which is due to open in the grounds of St James’s University Hospital in Leeds in 2017.

Every centre follows a blueprint of care originally laid out by Maggie Keswick Jencks, who lived with advanced secondary cancer for two years and was determined that people should not ‘lose the joy of living in the fear of dying’.

‘She was ushered into a hospital room, diagnosed with secondary cancer and then found herself back out in the corridor again without any clue of what to do next,’ said Yorkshire campaign manager Louise Riley. ‘She had no experience of cancer and genuinely had no idea how to tell her children or how to deal with the prognosis. But, as her own treatment progressed, she began to see how things could be done differently.’

Studio’s ingenious ‘living garden’ design for the new Maggie’s centre in Yorkshire

Studio’s ingenious ‘living garden’ design for the new Maggie’s centre in Yorkshire - Credit: Archant

In order to live more positively, she believed people needed information, stress-reducing strategies, psychological support and the opportunity to meet other people in a relaxed, domestic setting. She worked closely with her own oncology nurse, Laura Lee – now Maggie’s chief executive – to launch the first centre in a former stable block at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, Maggie died before the centre was complete, but her groundwork ensured its success and started the ball rolling on a charity that has since transformed many thousands of lives.

‘We don’t have patients, we have people with cancer,’ said Louise. ‘You don’t lose your identity because you have an illness so, for us, the emphasis is very much on the person, not the cancer.

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‘We work in tandem with NHS clinicians, but our work is not clinical. You don’t feel like you’re coming into hospital when you come into a Maggie’s centre. There’s no reception desk or clinical equipment – even the loos feel comfortable and homely with nice soaps and towels, not pump dispensers and hand-dryers. All our centres are purposefully designed to feel like someone’s home.’

Planning permission has now been granted for the new £5m Maggie’s Centre in the grounds of St James’s University Hospital. Working in partnership with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, the centre will provide free support for anyone living with cancer as well as their family and friends.

Maggie’s centres are not just there for people with cancer – family and friends are welcome too

Maggie’s centres are not just there for people with cancer – family and friends are welcome too - Credit: Archant

The often unheralded generosity of Yorkshire people means £3m has already been raised. When the fundraising hits £4m, work will begin on site and the centre should be open in 2017.

‘Hospitals request Maggie’s centres; we don’t go to them,’ said Louise. ‘To be honest, we can’t really keep up with demand.’

Maggie’s Yorkshire has been designed by Heatherwick Studio, one of Britain’s most innovative design practices.

‘The site is a small patch of green surrounded by the huge volumes of the existing hospital buildings,’ said Thomas Heatherwick. ‘Instead of taking away the open space, we decided to make a whole building out of a garden.’

It’s a challenging site, no doubt about it, with a steep incline and the smallest scrap of greenery, but the clever design ensures the centre will feel spacious, airy and open.

‘What Thomas has done is create a living garden,’ said Louise. ‘It’s functional but it’s also very beautiful, split over different levels and created from glass and ceramics to give the impression of a garden space. Like every other Maggie’s centre, it’s utterly unique.’

Maggie’s ethos from the very beginning was to make people feel cared for and valued by investing time, effort and cash in suitably special buildings.

‘We want it to feel like you’re popping round to your best friend’s mum’s house,’ said Louise. ‘It’s welcoming and warm and there are always nice biscuits in the tin. We want people to feel completely relaxed.’

When it opens in 2017, Maggie’s Yorkshire will inevitably be well-used, but the admirable team behind it hope that it will also be well-loved. And the signs are good that, as a county, we’re ready to welcome it with open arms – and wallets to match.

‘People in Yorkshire have already been incredibly generous,’ said Louise. ‘You can’t really raise £5m quickly by relying on £10 here and there. People have been digging deep on our behalf and we’re very grateful.’ w

To find out more information and how you can help go to www.maggiescentres.org/Yorkshire

Why Yorkshire needs its own Maggie’s Centre

:: More than 14,000 people in Yorkshire are diagnosed with cancer each year, and this number is rising annually by three per cent.

:: The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust sees around 9,500 diagnoses a year, with more than 150,000 living with or after cancer in Yorkshire.

:: Despite many breakthroughs in cancer treatment and care, almost half of people in the UK will have cancer in their lifetime by 2020.

:: Today, there are two million people living with or after cancer in the UK and this figure is steadily rising, with more than 300,000 new diagnoses each year.

:: Maggie’s Yorkshire will be there for anyone and everyone affected by cancer, offering a programme of support based on evidence proven to strengthen physical and emotional wellbeing.

:: The centre will be a place with professional staff on hand to offer support, answer tough questions and help guide people with cancer – and their friends and families – through challenging times.

:: Maggie’s Yorkshire will offer practical advice about benefits and nutrition; emotional support from qualified experts; a friendly place to meet other people; and a good cup of tea.

:: If you would like to make a donation to Maggie’s Yorkshire, contact campaign manager Louise Riley on 07557 160928 or via email at louise.riley@maggiescentres.org.

Sara and Maggie

Sara Elhassani from Chapel Allerton in Leeds explains what Maggie’s Yorkshire will mean to people with cancer.

‘When I was first diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, there was an overriding sense that I was no longer in the land of the living, that I had been dismissed almost, pushed to the edge of the living world. It’s a horrible, scary feeling.

‘After visiting Maggie’s centres in Newcastle and Nottingham, I felt a very strong need for the support the charity provides – somewhere you can just drop in and don’t have to book. The more your condition deteriorates, the more support you need. As cancer patients, we spend much of our lives at the oncology department, so it’s important to have support close by on the hospital grounds. It’s lovely to have somewhere you can drop in whenever you choose.

‘Maggie’s centres are wonderful places for making you feel that you’re still part of the human race, that you belong and are able to be yourself. I’m so pleased to hear there will be one in Yorkshire providing vital support for those who need it across the region.’

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