St Columba’s bids farewell to Granton as hospice relocates

Equipment sits outside ready for the move
Equipment sits outside ready for the move
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Bidding farewell to a much-loved home can add a touch of sadness to the stress of moving house. So imagine saying goodbye to the memories contained within the walls of a hospice – and relocating while it is still operating.

The £26 million scheme to rebuild St Columba’s Hospice is about to get under way at its site in Granton, and to ensure patients and their families are not disturbed by building works, the hospice is moving, lock stock and barrel.

Consultant Yvonne Jansen and Staff Nurse Rona Thornton pack up

Consultant Yvonne Jansen and Staff Nurse Rona Thornton pack up

For the next two years it will be based at Kirklands House in Gogarbank. But that means getting there first – and the move has begun.

Nursing Sister Irene Barclay is one of the team of staff who have been planning for the relocation for the past two years. She will play a key role in the most important aspect – transferring the patients.

“I’ve been looking at every single detail of the inpatient unit to decide the best way and the most dignified way to move the patients at this stage of their illnesses,” she says.

“Over the last three or four weeks we’ve been looking at their clinical need and their symptoms have been managed. We’re very knowledgable about the pain relief that they need and the symptoms they have, and how to regulate them.”

Some patients will move to Kirklands by ambulance, while others may be well enough to travel with their families. But anyone who really needs to stay put will do just that, Irene says: “If anybody is in pain or if anybody is dying here while we’re moving, we will stay here with the patients who are dying – we will split the staff and we will stay here with them.”

The hospice closed to new admissions on Monday for just over a week, and staff have been co-ordinating with the Western General and the Marie Curie Hospice to ensure hospice beds are available to those who really need them. Other patients already under the care of the St Columba’s community care team are being given all the support they need to remain in their own homes.

With the number of inpatients now reduced from the capacity level of 30 down to 12, one of the nursing wings has been closed and the first stages of the packing operation have been taking place behind its closed doors, without disrupting patients. Wards where staff have seen generations of Edinburgh residents bid farewell to one another with tenderness and sorrow now stand empty, or stacked with wheelchairs, mattresses and packing crates.

The move is not only a challenging time logistically for staff – it is also emotionally draining.

Viewing the empty wards thoughtfully, Irene says: “When we emptied these rooms, what we weren’t ready for, I think, were the emotions that were felt when the rooms emptied, because of the history of what’s gone on here. You just reflect on the relationships that you’ve built up with the patients.”

Today, staff will take a final walk around the building together before they leave for the last time.

The wards are to be knocked down and replaced, but the memories they contain will not be lost. St Columba’s is running its Foundations Appeal, which invites supporters to write their own thoughts and memories of the hospice on a paper dove. All the doves will be placed in a box and put into the foundations of the new building, preserving a little of the hospice’s past at the heart of its future.

In moving to Kirklands House, St Columba’s will temporarily leave behind its tranquil views across the Firth of Forth, but it is swapping them for rural peace instead. The high-ceilinged wards at Kirklands have huge south-facing windows, which let in the sunlight and overlook a garden secluded by trees.

The building, originally a private house, is owned by the charity Trefoil, which moved there in 1951 to provide school facilities for children with special needs. It then became a holiday and activity centre and was more recently leased to the city council as a care home for the elderly, but for the past two years has been empty.

As the move gathers pace, however, the place is a hive of industry.

Removal men are already unloading hospital beds, sofas and boxes from their vans outside.

Fine weather has seen the beds lined up in the car park for some last-minute tweaks from the maintenance man before they are taken inside for a thorough scrub. A cherry picker at the back of the building carries workers putting final touches to the windows, and men with paintbrushes are dabbing at the fire escapes.

Inside, drip stands line up alongside stepladders, piles of signs wait to be attached to walls, and snagging lists are attached to every door.

The new hospice replicates Granton’s facilities, retaining 30 beds for inpatients. There is also a room for outpatients to socialise or receive complementary therapies, a dining room where staff and patients will eat together, and a coffee room to welcome visitors.

By the time the patients arrive on Tuesday, everything must be up and running – as soon as staff and patients are on site, the hospice will re-open for new admissions.

Medical director Dr Duncan Brown is one of those faced with the challenge of overseeing the move, not only of the patients, but also staff and volunteers, many of whom have worked at the site in Granton for years. He says a feeling of continuity has been vital: “I think because we’ve been communicating all along with staff they know that, although we’re moving away from this site, we’re continuing to provide the same services.

“The key thing has been that, although the hospice is moving geographically, the staff remain the same, our philosophy stays the same. From that point of view things don’t change. We’re not going to be compromising any of our services,” he says.

On hand to try and lessen the burden on hospice staff is Yvonne Jansen, a move consultant with the company Space Solutions. She started working with the hospice a year ago, and is spending almost two weeks directly supervising on-site. She will be there until late tonight, throughout the weekend and for most of next week, making sure things go smoothly.

Unflappable, with a huge smile and a bag full of cable ties and notebooks, her role is to take all the worry away from hospice staff, so they in turn can concentrate on reassuring patients and families. “Obviously, moving is a very anxious time for people, because they’re used to the environment here,” she says. “It’s good if I can take some stress away and make sure people are focused on their day jobs and that the patients are comfortable.”

She has managed moves at universities, offices, and for the NHS, but says the hospice is a unique challenge: “It’s a live environment and a patient environment. We have to work very closely with nursing staff making sure there’s no disruption to patients, and that’s what the whole move has been planned around, to be honest.”

‘He’s back to being dad’

WHEN Harry Gilliatt, 84 arrived at St Columba’s in December, he was terribly ill. But thanks to the love and care that he received there, the retired manufacturing optician rallied so much that he is now back at home in Craigentinny, enjoying his friends, family and hobbies once more.

Mr Gilliatt spent seven weeks at the hospice after being diagnosed with renal and prostate cancer at the Western General.

He says: “For the first fortnight I was pretty poor, but the love and care was marvellous and I got some strength and recovered very well, because it was a superb place. The sisters, the staff, the whole place were so loving and caring – I was sorry to leave, actually.”

He now receives regular visits from hospice community carers, and will use the outpatient services at the new site at Kirklands House after the relocation.

His daughter, Tynecastle depute head teacher Angela Bell, 50, below, said that her father had taken a keen interest in the plans for the move during his stay: “It’s been very sympathetically handled. The remarkable thing about dad is that he took a real interest in it. They asked him to suggest some ideas for patients when they got there and modifications for fittings and so on, and he’s been really interested to hear what it’s going to be like and where it is.”

She is full of praise for St Columba’s: “What happened here was just bit by bit, he gained strength and confidence and just a lease of life – it was the most amazing thing to see. He went back to being able to take interest in things, order a new camera, play the piano, he’s just back to being dad.”

Mr Gilliatt is looking forward to seeing the new home for the hospice: “I wasn’t sure where they were actually going but I’m pleased to find out it’s nearer than I thought,” he says.

“I’ll be going there in about a fortnight’s time to the day centre. I’ve never been out there, but what I’ve heard is it’s very nice and of course when they come back to the new place with the views of the Firth of Forth, that will be wonderful.”