Receiving a cancer diagnosis is among life’s darkest moments.
When Maggie Keswick Jencks was told she had terminal breast cancer, the only place she could find to cry privately was a hospital bathroom.
Determined that no-one else should suffer that way, the landscape architect started work on the first Maggie’s Centre at the Western General Hospital.
For nearly 20 years, the centre housed in a former stable block has provided comfort to thousands of cancer patients and their families.
However Maggie’s has become so successful that the organisation is struggling to cope with all the people who need support.
The Evening News has joined forces with dedicated fundraiser Lisa Stephenson and Maggie’s to raise more than £750,000 to extend the Edinburgh centre, so it can transform the lives of an additional 5000 people a year.
Andrew Anderson, centre head for Maggie’s Edinburgh, said: “We hadn’t ever thought we would be as successful as we have been in terms of the sheer number of people coming to the centre.
“We have had 22,000 visits this year. Because of that, at the moment we are at capacity in terms of what we are able to do.
“There are days when people might come to the centre for the first time and there isn’t a seat for them because we are so busy.
“We want it to feel as calm, restful and positive as possible, and to give everyone all the time they need.”
Built alongside the hospital, Maggie’s Centres are places to find practical advice about benefits and eating well, emotional support, social interaction and calming spaces simply to sit quietly with a cup of tea.
Plans for the £1.2 million extension have been drawn up by Richard Murphy, a leading city architect who designed the original Maggie’s building.
Using land gifted by NHS Lothian, the project will include three new rooms for activities and therapy sessions, more drop-in space and extensions to the garden with a pavilion for quiet contemplation.
Design and architecture is vital to the care the Maggie’s delivers as the charity believes calm and beautiful buildings can lift people’s spirits and reduce their anxiety.
The centre runs on a very informal approach – no name badges, no signs, no reception desk.
Visitors are encouraged to congregate around a big kitchen table, to grab a cup of tea and have a chat as if they were popping around to see a friend.
This ethos will remain at the heart of the new centre, which is due for completion by September next year.
Andrew, a former oncology nurse at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre, said: “What we are trying to do in this space is try to make it feel as comfortable and easy as possible.
“It’s about trying to extend the building without losing these sense of what makes it special.”
The garden will be lengthened to allow for more walking space, as well as tai chi and gardening activities.
The centre will also be able to put on more of its most popular classes, such as stress management and a recovery class called ‘Where Now?’, which helps people rebuild their lives after cancer.
There is already around £440,000 in the pot raised by the ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign, which was started by Edinburgh cancer patient Lisa Stephenson.
Readers can buy a virtual brick for £25 in memory of a loved one, to mark a special occasion or in their own name if they prefer. Alternatively they can donate any amount by cheque or cash directly to the centre.
Andrew said: “We are really looking for the Edinburgh community to get behind this.
“This was all started by people in Edinburgh and we hope that people will continue to care for us and allow us to care for more people.
“It is an extraordinary place to work. It gives us the space to get to know people and speak to people about things that they can’t raise with their family or friends.
“I think the uniqueness of Maggie’s is the simplicity of the idea.
“It’s a place to stop for a minute, a place to be heard.”