When Bill Bridges’ mother spent her final weeks at St Catherine’s Hospice, he was so touched by the care she received that he vowed never to forget the staff who showed such compassion. Years later, the Sussex farmer is going above and beyond to give something back, by gifting the hospice five acres of land to help build a new facility.
St Catherine’s Hospice opened in 1983 and is the leading provider of hospice care in West Sussex and East Surrey, helping more than 2,000 terminally-ill people, their family and carers each year. It has been a long-held dream to expand and care for more patients, with no room to grow on the current site in Crawley. Following Bill’s offer of five acres of his land in the village of Pease Pottage, in 2015 the hospice was able to advance plans for a new £19m centre.
His mother, Grace, had cancer and spent her final weeks in the hospice in 1984, passing away aged 67. Bill, 81, who with his family runs three farms with 1,200 acres of arable and grassland, and owns G.W&G Bridges vehicle recycling centre, says:
We couldn’t manage her care anymore and they made her happy and comfortable, which is so important. My mum was a special lady, we were in business together, and the care they gave was wonderful. Over the years some good friends of mine have been made so comfortable there too; it makes a difference.
They’re lovely people and I wanted to give something back
Planning permission was granted in 2017 and work is underway, with the aim of opening this autumn on a road named after Grace. There will be 24 beds, private counselling rooms, a reflective courtyard and a spiritual space. The hospice believes it will be able to care for an additional 360 ward patients and outpatients every year.
Bill, who still works six days a week, is proud of the facility. “We were keen for there to be family rooms as it’s nice for relatives to have their own space, so I’m really pleased with it.” He has also played a role in fundraising.
“He’s a special man and can’t wait for the hospice to be ready,” says his daughter Billie. “He goes past it every day at 6am to check how it’s coming along. We were given a tour recently and Dad couldn’t stop grinning. It will look out over one of our farms and is going to be stunning.”
As well as Bill’s support, hundreds of people in the community have donated, along with a number of charitable trusts. Local businessman John Shemeld also left a significant gift in his will.
Giles Tomsett, Chief Executive of St Catherine’s, says: “The generosity of the Bridges family has enabled us to build a modern facility that will serve our community for generations to come, and I would like to share my heartfelt gratitude on behalf of the people across West Sussex and East Surrey.”