10th January 2022

    “Spiritual care is at the heart of palliative care” – Spiritual Care Awareness Month 2022

    Martyn Yates is a Spiritual Care Lead and Complementary Therapist at Pilgrims Hospices, based at the Canterbury hospice.

    He shares how he came to his spiritual care role, what spirituality means to him in practice and why he believes it plays such a vital part in hospice care.


    My average day working in palliative care at Pilgrims is spent looking after our patients, families and staff in as holistic a way as possible, which I find tremendously rewarding.

    I’ve been working at Pilgrims Hospices for 33 years, initially as the Complementary Therapy Lead. When our chaplain left eight years ago, I was asked if I would be interested in “looking after the spiritual care of patients” from a “non-religious” point of view. I considered the request and agreed to it.

    I’ve always had an interest in the spiritual aspects of life. In the 60s and 70s, I pursued many aspects of spiritual development whilst teaching in different denominational schools in South London; from this, I formed my own ideas of spirituality. Then, coming back down to Minnis Bay in Thanet with my wife to have a family and moving into the Alternative Therapy world – later to become the Complementary Therapy world – I continued to pursue other personal aspects of spiritual development and my life’s path became a spiritual one.

    In everyday life, my daily spiritual practices give a foundation for me to have the best day I possibly can. Working at Pilgrims Hospices, I believe spiritual care is at the heart of palliative care; it is personal and can successfully cater for people of a particular religious faith or none.

    As I also work as a complementary therapist, I treat my patients holistically – which means looking after their mind, body and spirit – and this fits in perfectly with my spiritual care role. It allows me to meet and get to know not only the patients but also their families, and I do my best to help them through this part of their journey.


    Pilgrims Hospices celebrated Spiritual Care Awareness Month throughout January 2022, showcasing the many ways that spiritual care can make a positive difference to patients, their families, carers and loved ones.

    Click here to find out more.


    There’s much more to death than we think; what if it isn’t just an ending, but an event we can plan for? Thinking beyond the four walls of hospices and hospitals, we have the chance to approach it with confidence and plan a good death. After Wards is a collection of insights and ideas from people who can help us all to re-imagine this essential part of life, and to live well until we die.

    Continue the conversation at our Time to Talk events with film screenings, poetry readings, Death Cafes and much more. 

    3rd January 2022

    “Dying isn’t just a physical process” – Spiritual Care Awareness Month 2022

    Sophie Van Walwyk is Head of Psychosocial, Wellbeing and Bereavement Services at Pilgrims Hospices.

    She introduces Pilgrims’ Spiritual Care Awareness Month, explains how and where spiritual care fits within hospice care, and shares what spirituality means to her personally.


    What does your role involve and how did you come to it?

    In my role at Pilgrims, I’m responsible for our social workers, counsellors and spiritual care leads across our three hospice sites. I also oversee Pilgrims Therapy Centres, wellbeing services and bereavement care.

    I joined Pilgrims in 2015, originally as a palliative social worker at our Thanet hospice. I’d worked closely with the hospice in my previous role with the local authority; learning more about the care and support offered at Pilgrims, I recognised I wanted to also support individuals who were facing the end of their life.

    When someone receives a palliative diagnosis, it can be a frightening and sad time for them and their loved ones. Helping people adjust to and cope with the challenges they are facing is fundamental to hospice care – dying isn’t just a physical process, it is also a psychological, social and spiritual experience. It’s important to recognise a person’s individual needs and care for all of these in the same way we would treat their physical symptoms.

    Treating the whole person is the best part of hospice care. Helping people understand what is important to them at the end of their life, and enabling and empowering them to live as well as possible for as long as possible, is such a rewarding part of my role.

    What does spirituality mean to you?

    Spirituality means different things to different people and it can change over time and in different situations. Traditionally, spirituality was based very much around religious beliefs and rituals, but modern spirituality has become a blend of religious beliefs, humanistic psychology and mystical or obscure traditions.

    Spiritual needs can include:

    • The need to feel hope, peace and gratitude
    • The need for meaning and purpose in our lives
    • The need to feel a sense of belonging
    • The need to love and feel loved

    People do different things to meet their spiritual needs, depending on what is important to them. For some this may be through prayer and worship, but it’s important to understand that our spiritual needs can also be met in other ways. These may include being with family and friends, spending time in nature, or through interests and hobbies.

    For me, spirituality is how I make sense of myself, the world around me and my place and purpose in it. When I first started to explore my own spirituality, I had more questions than answers, and as I continue on my spiritual journey I often still do! But that’s how spiritual growth works; it helps you to question things about yourself and the world, and to accept things about them. It’s sometimes hard to describe what spirituality feels like, because that’s what it is – a feeling deep within you, a sense of inner calm and peace that only you can feel and understand.

    We do have to give time and attention to our own spiritual growth though, it’s not something we can sit back and expect to happen. We have to work at it, by opening our minds and hearts and exploring different ways that may help us to care for ourselves spiritually.

    I find being close to nature helps me to tune into my own spirituality, as it brings a sense of stillness and calm. It encourages me to slow both my body and mind, to simply be in the moment, and appreciate the beauty all around me.

    What role does spiritual care play in hospice care and why is it important?

    Spiritual distress or pain can happen when people are unable to find meaning, hope, love, peace, comfort, strength or connection in their life.

    Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, taught us about total pain at the end of life – meaning that a person can feel not only physical pain, but also psychological, social and spiritual pain. We must recognise each of these elements that an individual may be experiencing, and support these needs with the same level of care we give to managing physical pain and symptoms.

    When an individual is facing the end of their life, it’s natural that they may want to reflect on the meaning of their life – perhaps for the first time, or at a deeper level than they have done before. They may also want to think about death, loss and grief in new ways.

    I’m delighted to be involved with Pilgrims’ Spiritual Care Awareness Month celebrating this vital part of hospice care.


    Pilgrims Hospices celebrated Spiritual Care Awareness Month throughout January 2022, showcasing the many ways that spiritual care can make a positive difference to patients, their families, carers and loved ones.

    Click here to find out more.


    There’s much more to death than we think; what if it isn’t just an ending, but an event we can plan for? Thinking beyond the four walls of hospices and hospitals, we have the chance to approach it with confidence and plan a good death. After Wards is a collection of insights and ideas from people who can help us all to re-imagine this essential part of life, and to live well until we die.

    Continue the conversation at our Time to Talk events with film screenings, poetry readings, Death Cafes and much more. 

    15th December 2021

    “It’s about being attentive to each person’s needs, religious or not” – Spiritual Care Awareness Month 2022

    Petra Kerr has been a Spiritual Care Volunteer at Pilgrims Hospices since 2016.

    She shares what inspired her to get involved and why she enjoys her role.


    In 2015, I felt I was being called to help people in their time of need, so I enrolled on a course called ‘Pastoral Care’ organised by the Diocese of Canterbury. Once completed, I then attended another course, ‘Funeral and Bereavement’. Contemplating where I could develop my skills, I was instantly drawn to Pilgrims Hospices.

    I met with Martyn Yates in 2016 and immediately knew that Pilgrims is where I wanted to be; within a couple of weeks, I had become a Spiritual Care Volunteer.

    I always remember Martyn saying to me, ‘never be afraid to laugh in here’. At the time, I thought, ‘how very strange’, but I genuinely have had some really funny moments with staff, patients and families.

    I was also blessed in 2017 to be given authorisation from the Bishop of Dover to administer the sacraments as and when required; this was a great privilege for me.

    I’m often asked if you have to be religious to receive pastoral or spiritual care. I believe not. For me, it’s about being attentive to each person’s needs, religious or not. It’s about being compassionate and considerate. It’s not always about speaking, either; a simple holding of hands is sometimes all it takes.  I strongly believe that spiritual care plays a crucial part within hospice care, as it’s about helping the patient and their family manage any uncertainties they may have and listening to and responding to their needs.

    I feel honoured and humbled to be a part of the amazing work Pilgrims do.

    Would you like to become a Spiritual Care Volunteer for Pilgrims and make a positive difference to people living with an incurable illness in east Kent?

    Click here to apply today.


    Pilgrims Hospices celebrated Spiritual Care Awareness Month throughout January 2022, showcasing the many ways that spiritual care can make a positive difference to patients, their families, carers and loved ones.

    Click here to find out more.


    There’s much more to death than we think; what if it isn’t just an ending, but an event we can plan for? Thinking beyond the four walls of hospices and hospitals, we have the chance to approach it with confidence and plan a good death. After Wards is a collection of insights and ideas from people who can help us all to re-imagine this essential part of life, and to live well until we die.

    Continue the conversation at our Time to Talk events with film screenings, poetry readings, Death Cafes and much more. 

    “Human spirituality is complex” – Spiritual Care Awareness Month 2022

    Ken Cox is a Spiritual Care Lead at Pilgrims Hospices, based at the Thanet hospice.

    He shares what he enjoys about his role, what spirituality means to him and how spiritual care makes an integral contribution to the holistic nature of hospice care.


    What does your role involve and how did you come to it?

    In my role at Pilgrims, I am called upon to give spiritual care and advice to anyone who needs it; patients, carers and staff are all included within my remit.

    During training to become an ordained Church of England priest, we are required to undertake a pastoral placement. As I had no experience of hospice work, I thought it might be good to expand my knowledge and I managed to get a placement at the Canterbury hospice.

    From then on, I felt a call that working in a hospice environment would be the area for me to continue in after my curacy was completed. I initially came to the hospice as a volunteer and was appointed to my current role as Spiritual Care Lead at our Thanet hospice in 2016.

    I get a high level of satisfaction in helping people through emotionally hard times. I enjoy the interaction between myself and those I meet. Most of my working career has involved working as a team, so I am comfortable with and enjoy working with the other disciplines on the hospice multi-disciplinary team.

    What does spirituality mean to you?

    Human spirituality is a complex and difficult thing to nail down. The textbooks define it as relationships, values and life purpose. The main thing I concentrate on is relationships between myself and the people I come into contact with; the rest follows on. A basic relationship can grow into one where I can help the person come to terms with what is happening.

    My views on spirituality have been informed by study and reading of various books during ordination training. The academic reading is backed up by experience of being at the frontline of peoples’ emotions and raw feelings at a difficult time in their lives. It was a distinct advantage to have been a volunteer for a few months before taking up the role as a paid job.

    What role does spiritual care play in hospice care and why is it important?

    From my point of view, spiritual care can play a vital part in a patient’s or carer’s pathway whilst being cared for by Pilgrims. It involves being alongside people, lending a listening ear at their darkest time and being a shoulder to lean on, to help smooth things that are getting a bit bumpy.

    An integral part of working at Pilgrims is not to be judgemental. Some people suffer from guilt due to past actions as they come to the end of their life, and wish to atone or at least talk about this, which enables them to move forward.

    Spiritual distress can happen at any time during a person’s association with the hospice. This is an area where the Spiritual Care Lead can help immensely, talking through what is causing the distress, not offering any solutions but allowing the person to work through things and clear their minds. Often, it is physical and sometimes emotional pain that can be sorted out. We also work with people who have changed their belief system, either losing faith or discovering a dormant belief that comes to the fore. Quite often, people find it difficult to adjust to their new way of thinking, but spiritual care can help with this.

    A spiritual care lead is an integral part of Pilgrims’ multi-disciplinary team, which meets daily to discuss patients. At times, the spiritual care lead can have information that helps clinical staff gain an alternative insight into what a patient is feeling. As part of the team, we can be asked to follow up and provide another eye on the subject from a different perspective, which can be of great help.


    Pilgrims Hospices celebrated Spiritual Care Awareness Month throughout January 2022, showcasing the many ways that spiritual care can make a positive difference to patients, their families, carers and loved ones.

    Click here to find out more.


    There’s much more to death than we think; what if it isn’t just an ending, but an event we can plan for? Thinking beyond the four walls of hospices and hospitals, we have the chance to approach it with confidence and plan a good death. After Wards is a collection of insights and ideas from people who can help us all to re-imagine this essential part of life, and to live well until we die.

    Continue the conversation at our Time to Talk events with film screenings, poetry readings, Death Cafes and much more. 

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