Meet the Sue Ryder St John's Family Support Team

At Sue Ryder we understand how families, and children, can be affected when someone close to them is ill. At Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice in Moggerhanger, Bedfordshire this support is led by their multi-disciplinary Family Support Team. Meet some members of the team and find out more about their specialist roles.

The Family Support team is made up of a palliative social care worker, bereavement coordinator, spiritual care coordinator and 12 bereavement volunteers who support people from diagnosis onwards, during life-limiting conditions, and also offer bereavement support after a loved one has died. 

Meet Birgitte, our spiritual care coordinator

“I encourage the spiritual care of our patients, families, volunteers and staff, supporting people in their religious or spiritual journeys no matter their faith or their belief.”

“Very often they feel in a safe place to talk and patients will share their life story with me, from their early days, to their career, to their holidays and happy moments through to their diagnosis. It’s a real privilege to have people open up in this way and share their stories with me.”

“I facilitate meeting people’s spiritual needs, whether religious or around the spirituality of art or nature, and I support people in tackling questions around meaning or purpose, questions on legacy and subjects like guilt, forgiveness, hope and peace.”

“One lady came into our hospice shocked by her diagnosis. I worked with her to plan her own celebration of life service. I have also helped families in our care organise celebrations for special birthdays or anniversaries, wedding blessings and children’s blessings too. It’s such an honour to support families in making these arrangements.”

We put patients at the centre and look after the whole family too

“One piece of feedback which stays with me was from one family who said when they were in crisis the hospice put their loved one in the centre and looked after the whole family. It’s exactly what we aim to do.”

“We put people at the centre of all we do and we all work together to support them.”

“As a team we have lots of conversations with patients and families about death and dying, but we talk a lot about living too. It surprises people that there is a focus on life in a hospice and that there is a lot of laughter that goes on here.”

Meet Hazel, counsellor - "We are there for as long as it takes"

Hazel Crane is a counsellor with a nursing background who has worked at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice for 13 years. She’s held various roles in the hospice working on the inpatient unit ward, in the day hospice and as a bereavement volunteer too. Hazel works with people in the community, supporting bereaved relatives.

“The Family Support Team offers bereavement support for as long as it takes. The part I love most about my role is helping people to move forward and help see them in a better place.”

“In a way it is an odd role – our aim is to not be needed any more, because if we are not needed that means what we’re doing is right.”

“We have 12 bereavement volunteers on our team and our service could not exist without them. I help support the volunteers too.”

We listen and there is time to talk

“With bereavement support there is a lot of listening. We give people time to talk about their loved ones. This time is for them and them alone. It is a release and it is good to talk with someone who is objective and can see things as they are.”

“I work part time in this role and on top of this I volunteer my own time in supporting our Carers Group too.”

“I am really passionate about our work and the service that we deliver. We give our families space where they feel protected. To hear one relative say she felt like we were a comfort blanket when she needed it most meant the world to me, as that is what we want to achieve.”

Meet Charmain Felts, Social Worker

“I have been working at the hospice for four and a half years, providing patients and families with psychological, spiritual, emotional and social support. I help with discharge planning and support families with pre and post bereavement support too.”

“It is my role to see how people are managing and to see what we can do to help make things easier for them. A lot of the time families need help talking through the various different processes like how to access carers support and benefits.”

“We build relationships with families in our care and they trust us to be support them. It is a real privilege to help make a difference and support people at what can be the most difficult time of their lives. We do all we can as a team to make things easier.”

Being creative in our support of families

“What I love most about working at Sue Ryder is the opportunity to be creative in the way we support people. We have been able to set up a carers group called Carers Thursday, which was developed in direct response to the needs of people being cared for by the hospice. It is one of our success stories and celebrated its second birthday earlier this year.”

“We identify what is needed and we act on it. For example, we have created a selfie box for older children and teenagers visiting the hospice – a tub with props and a wooden photo frame for families to use for a bit of fun.”

“We wanted to do something for the teenagers visiting us to make it a bit more friendly and welcoming environment. With the selfie box they can have a play and create some happy moments while being here. Often their loved ones don’t mind having their photos taken with a funny hat and silly glasses on and it’s a positive way for them to use their phone and capture memories together.”

Meet Hayley Gale, Bereavement Coordinator

Bereavement Coordinator, Hayley Gale, has just joined the Family Support Team and has previous experience as a trained counsellor dealing with trauma and loss.

“I work with patients on our inpatient unit, their family members and with people out in our local community too. I also coordinate our 12 bereavement volunteers. Working together we support families who have a loved one with a terminal diagnosis pre and post bereavement.”

“The type and level of support we offer is specific to each individual’s needs. We listen and we help people to process what they are going through.”

“I wanted to join Sue Ryder is I like what the charity stands for. It is a real privilege to do the job I do. For people who can be in a very vulnerable stage in their life to feel able to trust us enough to talk and to open up those lines of support to help them is an absolute privilege.”

“We all bring something different to the table to help support families"

“The Family Support Team at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice is amazing to work with too. The support offered by team members is second to none, and we are all professionals in the individual professions we are trained in. This means we all bring something different to the table to help support families. Our different backgrounds and experience means we can take a different look at scenarios to offer the support families need, when they need it most.”

“When I tell people what I do for a living they often ask how do you do that? It is mainly to do with their interpretation of a hospice being a negative place but it’s really not. The hospice is a happy place. There is often light and hope and this makes it a very special place to work.”

“We see people for who they are – we see beyond their condition and their diagnosis and see the person beyond; who they were; what experiences they have had in their life. We help them explore that and we help them talk beyond their illness too."

“Every day is different but we learn so much from the people we work with and it is a really nice place to be.”

More information

Find out more about the care and support services available at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice.

If you are struggling with the death of someone close to you our Online Bereavement Community can help, providing a space to share your experiences, ask questions and chat to people who understand.