THE cedar tree with its vast green umbrella, thick reddish brown trunk and thirsty roots that stretch far below the ground, is still there.
Tall and monumental, harbouring little winged creatures whose tweets and chirrups declare it’s definitely spring – the season of rebirth and change – it towers over the grassy lawn and stretches woody limbs to the heavens.
For nearly four decades, visitors, patients and staff at St Columba’s Hospice in Trinity have turned their gaze towards it, reflecting on nature’s glory and soaking in that overwhelming connection with the world which is ever so much sharper as the fragile ties that bind us to it weaken and eventually sever.
The cedar remained strong and lush while bulldozers and trucks moved in to tear away the clinical Eighties flat-roof hospice building and workers rolled in with noisy hammers and drills, leaving it marooned in the chaos of a busy building site.
Two years on and as the brand new £26 million replacement building, paid for thanks largely to the generosity of local people, prepares to open its doors to provide care and comfort for the sick in their final days, the grand old cedar – incredibly – continues to stand tall.
Indeed the towering tree, the ornate garden fountain, B listed Challenger Lodge and the glorious views across the Forth are very much still there – comforting reminders that while St Columba’s Hospice has been reborn back in its spiritual home of Boswall Road as a striking modern complex, the same deep-rooted dedicated care that has eased the final journey for hundreds of patients down the years remains solid.
Today the countdown is well under way to welcoming the first patients from the hospice’s temporary home, Kirklands House in Gogarburn. Final touches are being made: the heating is on, the water fountain in the glossy new reception area is about to be plumbed in, stairs are being swept and carefully chosen artwork and comfy chairs will soon arrive to give bare spaces a cosy touch.
From the moment its VIP guests – the patients – pass through the gated entrance they will encounter a stunning custom designed building created to cater for their unique needs, featuring modern technology and labour-saving equipment to help ease the role of the devoted staff.
Inside is space for 30 patients in rooms painted in soothing tones – most of them single bed – that look more like quality hotel suites than a clinical care facility. Fussy plugs and essential equipment are cunningly tucked behind panels, the wet rooms are stylish and ceiling to floor glass doors open on to sheltered balconies, large enough for a chair or bed to be positioned so the sun’s rays or the gentle breeze can play on weary faces.
On the ground floor, a clear glass corridor connects the new build with a completely renovated Challenger Lodge, overlooking a pretty courtyard of raised flower beds and summer seats. Meanwhile upstairs, huge picture windows draw nature’s glory inside with stunning views across the Forth or south, across the garden towards the huge cedar tree.
It is, says St Columba’s Hospice chief executive Margaret Dunbar, simply amazing.
“The building exceeds all expectations,” she smiles. “We had our first meeting with the architect in 2006 and it is incredible to see it finally complete.
“I walked around on my own the other day and found the whole experience really quite emotional. Looking towards the cedar tree, the sun was shining and it was beautiful to look over to the sea and take time to absorb the new building, the old lodge and the gardens.”
The impressive Georgian lodge at the heart of the hospice complex was where the first 15 patients arrived in 1977 to experience this new form of care specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of those in their final days. As demand grew for its specialist treatment, an extra building was added in the Eighties.
However as palliative care evolved it was soon obvious that many patients and their families wanted more single rooms, extra privacy and more space.
The hospice decamped to Kirklands House in Gogarburn in February 2012 to allow a massive demolition and rebuild to begin, almost entirely paid for thanks to the amazing response of local fundraisers and donors.
They included thousands of Evening News readers who raised an astonishing £370,000 in response to our 2009 Buy a Brick campaign, donating their cash in return for the chance to dedicate a brick at the new hospice in memory of a loved one.
It is, adds Margaret, down to the kindness of everyone who has supported the facility, that the rebuild was able to happen at all.
“It has been a hard slog but a great experience. The fundraising generosity of people has been incredible,” she says. “It has been very humbling.
“The Evening News readers were superb,” she adds. “To every individual who has got behind us, your support is so much appreciated.”
Of course it’s hoped many of those fundraisers will never need to lean on St Columba’s services. But, says hospice communications manager Jen Wood, those who have already experienced the care that helped make loved ones’ final journey as comfortable and stress-free as possible, often feel a lifelong connection with it.
“For some who lost a loved one, it has been quite hard to see the old building come down – there is a lot of emotional attachment here,” she nods. “We wanted to give people a touchstone so they could feel a connection.”
It is why everyone who walks over the tiled entrance towards the new reception desk will pass over a huge box planted deep in the foundations beneath their feet filled with loving thoughts and words of support from those who supported the hospice Foundations Appeal in 2012.
“It is filled with very poignant messages,” she adds. “Everyone who comes into the hospice reception will step over it, which is very meaningful for families.”
That regard for the unique place the hospice holds for families and supporters became evident during the hospice’s recent One Word Appeal, when fundraisers were asked to come up with a single word to sum up their experience of the facility.
The most popular words which emerged were “care” and “compassion”. Soon those and dozens of other words will cover one wall within the new Columba Room, a first floor sanctuary where people of all faiths can retreat to gather their private thoughts.
Overlooking Granton Harbour and the expanse of the Forth, the room features the original stained glass window which previously provided a focal point in the old building’s chapel. However just as the hospice’s new logo – a simple blue dove – has ditched its familiar Celtic cross, there are no religious symbols to be found.
“The Columba Room is a place where anyone can go for a bit of time and to contemplate,” explains chaplain Donald Reid. “That might be prayers or communing with nature or taking some time for themselves. It is a very important aspect of life in the hospice and is a nice, simple, calming room.
“On a clear day you can see Inchcolm Island – Columba’s island – through its window,” he adds.
Prayer mats, bibles and crucifixes can be made available. “That it’s not a chapel as such doesn’t trouble me at all,” he adds. “Looking out, there’s Mother Nature and the universal connection with creation and the creator. This belongs to everyone of all faiths.”
Meanwhile Mrs Dunbar says the “time was right” to create a new look to the familiar logo. “Obviously everyone knew and recognised the former logo and people got attached to it.
“However we carried out a consultation and everyone agreed it was the right time to move forward with a new logo, a new building and a new message that the hospice is here for everyone of all faiths or none.
“Everyone recognises the dove as a symbol of peace, care and love.”
It’s hoped patients and staff will begin their move to Trinity within weeks, a major exercise but one which ward sister Mandy Reid says everyone has been preparing for.
“It’s coming together at last,” she smiles. “We have waited a long time and I feel very lucky that we’ll have such a beautiful building.”
Staff were involved in brainstorming ideas for the new hospice, placing special emphasis on the needs of their patients and families. “They are at the heart of it – we know we can provide a high standard of care wherever we are,” she adds.
“We will have more private spaces for patients and families, generally better facilities, and a real feeling of space with natural light and amazing views.
“My ward, Pentlands, is on the second floor. We can look down the corridor and see the sea.”
“Kirklands has been great for the purpose, now it’s time to leave,” she adds.
“It feels like we’re heading home.”
• For more about St Columba’s Hospice, go to www.stcolumbashospice.org.uk
Hospice design looks to the future
THE new St Columba’s Hospice has been carefully designed with one eye on the future.
Its layout has as many ‘green’ features as possible including rainwater recycling and solar panels. Most residential patients will have a single room. The two wards also include lounge areas for patients and families, while extensive gardens are being landscaped using money from the hospice’s Forget-Me-Not appeal. It is hoped a final fundraising push will raise £109,000 required to reach the project target.
Eric Davidson, 85, whose wife, June, died at the hospice in March 2012 just after it moved to Gogarburn, said seeing familiar staff at the new look hospice will be an emotional moment.
“There’s a bond with the place, it’s almost like visiting a war memorial, it’s a link to where someone you’ve lost has been.”
Eric, who is hoping to take on a voluntary role at the Trinity premises, says the hospice helped him cope with the grief of losing his wife to cardiac problems. “Like most people I didn’t really know much about it beforehand. But having experienced it, it has been wonderful.”