Fond farewell to the Jersey Hospital's League of Friends

League of Friends. Picture: (37839286)

AFTER starting with the purchase of a television for inpatients to watch in 1978, and finishing with a cardiac ultrasound machine costing £138,000, the League of Friends for the General Hospital has been dissolved.

Having raised an estimated £1.5 million spent on buying a range of medical equipment in the 45 years since it was founded, the charity was officially dissolved at a short Royal Court hearing earlier this month.

The court heard that the League of Friends had closed its shop and café at the Hospital’s Parade entrance at the end of March 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, and that it had never been possible to reopen at the established site, or to identify new premises.

Carole Penfold, who first joined the league in 1990 and served as secretary since 1992, said there had been sadness at the decision, but that it had been decided that it was not viable to reopen.

“The circumstances were such that we felt it wasn’t possible,” she said. “The Parade entrance was closed for a long time, which meant there was no passing trade, and we’d been told we couldn’t serve hot food any longer.

“All our volunteers were older and some were no longer available to work, which meant we’d have had difficulty filling the roster, and we’d have needed to buy a large amount of new equipment.”

Mrs Penfold said the first meeting of the league’s committee was on 23 November 1978, with the original intention being to offer help to visitors who had been admitted to hospital and then been left alone when their family returned home.

“They would be visited on the wards and volunteers would go into town to pick up a JEP or other things they might need,” she said.

Within a month of setting up, a colour television was purchased for Bartlett Ward and installed just in time for Christmas.

The league subsequently opened a shop, and then a café, which accounted for a surge in profits: after raising an average of around £2,000 per year during the 1980s and 90s, the charity passed the £1m total in 2016 and amassed annual totals of more than £90,000 in both 2017 and 2018.

All the money was put towards the purchase of items on a “shopping list” provided by the Health Department, detailing equipment that was wanted but fell outside the budgets for the Hospital.

The café was refurbished in 2011, and the league also provided trolley services for patients at the General Hospital, and for residents at the Sandybrook daycare centre.

The Royal Court was told that at the time the decision was taken to seek dissolution, the League of Friends had around £230,000 in its bank account after receiving legacies in the wills of two Islanders.

A total of £202,000 had subsequently been spent, the court heard, to buy a renal dialysis machine for £50,000, an “echo” cardiac ultrasound machine for £138,000 and two electrocardiogram monitors, costing £7,000 each.

Mrs Penfold said that remaining funds had been retained in order that any outstanding costs could be covered, with the balance of at least £20,000 then set to be transferred to the Health Minister for the purchase of further equipment.

The charity has also invested in calligraphy required to update a memorial book detailing contributions made, although Mrs Penfold said that a wooden donations board, formerly sited in the café, had disappeared in recent years.

“It should have been kept safe so we could add the money that’s just been spent, and I hope someone may know where it is,” she said.

The League of Friends received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2013 and was nominated in the Volunteer or the Year category at the 2019 Pride of Jersey Awards, while Mrs Penfold was awarded the MBE for services to the community in 2017.

Having been so closely involved over many years, including closing the shop and café on Saturday 28 March 2020 as Covid restrictions mounted and ensuring food stocks were distributed between the Shelter Trust and hospital staff to avoid waste, Mrs Penfold said there was sadness at the league’s closure.

“It was a very happy place – popular with patients, visitors and hospital staff, and the volunteers loved working there,” she said. “Everything comes to an end, and we just have to smile and say that we did our best.”

At the conclusion of the Royal Court hearing, Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae said he wished to put on record the Island’s gratitude to the league and volunteers for what it had done over many years.

Health Minister Tom Binet said: “I am sad to hear that The League of Friends of the Jersey Group of Hospitals is unable to continue operating.

“The charity has been a valued part of our community for many years and I thank the volunteers for their hard work within the café in the hospital which supported patients, families and visitors, and visiting the wards to support patients.

“In addition to their volunteering, we are also grateful to the League of Friends for raising funds to buy hospital equipment.

“A portion of the charity’s assets will be assigned to me to distribute, and I will make sure this is put to good use.”

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –