18th January 2023

    Tony and Sharon renew wedding vows with the help of Pilgrims Hospices

    Tony and Sharon Reed from Ashford were married for 23 years; they had wanted to renew their wedding vows for a long time, but as Sharon says: “Life gets in the way, so we kept putting it on hold.”

    When Tony became unwell with cancer and was referred to Pilgrims Hospices in November 2022, he wanted to prioritise the vow renewal to make special, lasting memories with Sharon and their wider family. Thanks to a team effort by Pilgrims’ staff and volunteers, Tony and Sharon’s wishes were fulfilled; they renewed their vows at the Ashford hospice on 16 November 2022.

    Sharon first mentioned the vow renewal to Les Rood, a Reception Volunteer, who passed the message to Cat Darkins, Spiritual Care Lead, to get the ball rolling.

    Cat said: “’It is a privilege to be able to facilitate important life events at the hospice. We aim to keep what is important to the patient at the centre of what we do. We want to be able to help people make special memories and live life as well as possible for as long as possible. Tony and Sharon had been considering a vow renewal for some time, so for the whole of the hospice to help make it happen made it even more special.”

    Sharon and Tony with Rodney the PAT dog

    Cat officiated the ceremony, which was attended by the couple’s family and friends, with Tony’s sister and brother-in-law joining via video link from France. The hospice chapel was decorated by volunteers as a surprise for Tony and Sharon, and the catering team provided sandwiches and light refreshments. Volunteer Ginny Taylor arranged flower donations from a local Tesco store. Rodney the PAT dog made a very special guest appearance, and was a great support to Tony as he was saying his vows.

    Sharon said: “We were so excited; we chose our outfits and our bouquets were made by friends. Another friend, Hayley, took photos for us. Tony loved having Rodney there; he was patting away and didn’t stop smiling all day. It was amazing, really beautiful.”

    Hannah Sanders, Ward Sister, worked closely with Tony and Sharon and played a vital role in helping to organise their special day. She said: “Providing this opportunity to both Tony and Sharon to renew their vows was a privilege; I saw the love they had for each other and wanted to pull out all the stops to make their wish come true. All the staff were brilliant, and I feel very proud to be a part of such a caring and supportive team.”

    Tony had his own room at the hospice complete with a Cuddle Bed, an extra wide and adaptable hospital bed that enables patients to lie next to their loved one. This allowed Sharon to stay over and be close to Tony. They also enjoyed visits from family and friends, including their daughter, Chloe, and grandson, Ethan.

    Tony and Sharon in the Cuddle Bed alongside Sarah Martins, Senior Ward Sister, Hannah Sanders, Ward Sister and Cat Darkins, Spiritual Care Lead

    Sharon continued: “After the ceremony, so many people came to Tony’s room for a chat, to ask how we were and see the photos. All the hospice staff and volunteers are amazing, they’re like one big family.”

    Tony added: “The whole day made me really, really happy. Other patients and their families saw our ceremony going on and it brought them so much joy, too.

    “Everyone at Pilgrims is wonderful. They’re so helpful and just want to do what’s best for you; they listen to your wants and needs and give amazing care. I would tell anyone being offered hospice care to jump at the chance.”

    Pilgrims Hospices cares for thousands of local people each year, free of charge, during the most challenging time in their lives. They offer care and support in people’s own homes, in the community and in their inpatient units as well as running a 24-hour advice line.

    15th December 2022

    Natalie Sutton – Pilgrims’ first Nurse Associate

    Natalie Sutton has recently qualified in a brand new role as a Nurse Associate within the nursing team at Pilgrims Hospice Thanet.

    She has been a valued Health Care Assistant (HCA) within the care team for six years, her new role will be working with healthcare support workers, and registered nurses to deliver care for patients and their families. It’s also a stepping stone to becoming a registered nurse.

    Natalie is 35 years old and lives with her husband James in Ramsgate, she told us that after leaving school, she went to college to study child care, and pursued a career caring for young children. Thereafter she spent a number of years enjoying a career in retail. However, in her heart of hearts, she knew that care was in her blood, but didn’t quite know which area to choose.

    Natalie Sutton, Nurse Associate


    After nine years with Sainsbury’s, Natalie applied to work with a nursing agency, undertaking some domiciliary roles, working in peoples’ homes and care homes, she enjoyed the role, caring for a wide variety of people over two and a half years.

    She said: “While I was with the nursing agency, I looked after someone who was dying, and the colleague I worked alongside, shared her skills and knowledge with me; I learned so much about the correct procedures, and it truly sparked my interest in palliative care.

    “I decided to look for career opportunities with Pilgrims Hospices. My mum is a Palliative Specialist Nurse (PSN) with Pilgrims, and when I explained how I felt, she said that Pilgrims is a great place to work, and there might be opportunities for me to find a role within the care team.

    “I joined as a Health Care Assistant, and loved supporting with patients’ personal care, dietary requirements and much more. These are some of the elements that nurses don’t always have time to do in their busy shifts.

    In 2019, Natalie read about a brand new role of Nurse Associate that Pilgrims were going to add to the care team. It meant going to university as an apprentice while still working. “I was really interested, especially as this would allow me to continue working while taking on the university study. I would not have been able to afford to go back to full-time study.

    “I knew at this point I was really interested in taking my care career to the next level. In 2020, I took up a place to study at Canterbury Christchurch University, knowing it was a two-year programme to qualify. Pilgrims were really supportive and I completed my protected learning at the Canterbury hospice, giving me some time away from my HCA day role in Thanet, allowing me some quality time to really focus on the new training.

    “Initially, I felt quite overwhelmed and I wasn’t sure if would be able to manage the training, but with my husband’s and colleagues’ support, I soon got into my stride. I trained myself to find the best ways of learning and study, and soon came to grips with the essays and assignments to complete.”

    In Natalie’s new role she will be assisting the nurses with their daily jobs, including medicine management, admissions and discharges.

    As the first homegrown Nurse Associate, Natalie was instrumental in the selection of the brand new uniform for the role.

    “I’m really enjoying my new role, I’ve also been able to share some of my training experiences with other HCAs that may encourage them to consider the opportunity. I’m always happy to share my experiences, Pilgrims are hoping to have a Nurse Associate at the Ashford and Canterbury sites too.”

    When asked if she might consider taking her skills to the next level, and become a registered nurse she said: “Yes, perhaps in the future, but just now, I’m really enjoying my new role. Everyone here has been incredibly supportive and respectful of my new skills, I’m delighted to be part of Pilgrims’ care, we have the most amazing bond amongst our team.

    “The whole team feel passionately about end-of-life care for patients and their families, and we know from personal experience that the people we care for are immensely grateful for our help.”

    Kate White, Pilgrims Hospices Head of Nursing said: “I would like to say a massive congratulations to Natalie on becoming our first ‘ homegrown’ Nurse Associate!  Her hard work and dedication has paid off, we are very proud of her.

    “The new nursing associate (NA) role was introduced in England to bridge the gap between health care assistants and registered nurses. We hope to support further members of Pilgrims’ care team to take up these opportunities.”

    If you would like to know more about care opportunities within Pilgrims Hospices, please visit pilgrimshospices.org/vacancies for more information.

    Each year Pilgrims Hospices give care and comfort to thousands of people in east Kent who are coming to terms with an illness that sadly cannot be cured.  The charity support patients to live life as well as possible until the very end, free from pain and distress.

    Care is provided from three hospice sites in Ashford, Canterbury and Thanet as well as in patients’ own homes.  To offer these services to patients and their families the charity must raise £11 million each year from the generous local community.

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