Monday, 15 August 2022

Chefs who make Christmas special for hospice patients

Chefs who make Christmas special for hospice patients

JUST like millions of families across Britain, patients at the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed will be enjoying a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey with all the trimmings.

The difference is that it’s likely to be their last.

That’s why the team of chefs at Joyce Grove will go the extra mile at Christmas by not only giving up their time to prepare and cook the food but also offering the patients practically whatever they fancy to eat, including fish and chips.

The chefs are Beccy Harley, who is the catering manager and will be on duty on Christmas Day itself, and her staff Anna Duller and Sean Buckett, who will both be working on Boxing Day.

They will be preparing a traditional festive meal for not only the patients receiving round-the-clock palliative care at the hospice but also the other staff.

They will also be serving Christmas cake, mince pies and home-made sweets and providing snacks for families visiting their loved ones over the festive period as well as catering for functions throughout this month.

Ms Harley, who is 44 and lives in Buckinghamshire, has worked at Sue Ryder for 17 years and enjoys the
challenge of Christmas.

She says: “It’s about getting into a routine. You’ve got to be focused because we have to make dinners for the functions as well as for the patients.

“We had our first function on Thursday last week and altogether we have got seven different Christmas lunches and functions to do.”

The whole hospice has a festive atmosphere with a Christmas tree in the foyer, festive decorations dotted around the building and, most importantly, the staff and volunteers making an extra special effort.

Mr Buckett, 25, who lives in Henley and has worked for Sue Ryder for five years, has played the part of Father Christmas in full costume and beard.

Ms Harley will be bringing her 16-month-old English bull terrier Alfie to the hospice at Christmas for the patients to see — just as she did last year.

She says: “There’s definitely a festive spirit here at Christmas and we have lot of visitors.

“My partner Alan has come in with me for Christmas for the past few years and we are thinking of getting Alfie some antlers this time!

“The nurses give presents to everyone and we make sweets or truffles.”

She can empathise with the families since her husband Neil died from cancer in 2010. Ms Harley says: “Christmas is an emotional time for me. I cared for Neil at home, the only Christmas I didn’t work at Sue Ryder, so understand personally how families are feeling around Christmas time and caring for and losing loved ones.

“Neil had two children, Alice and Jim, with his first wife Jane and we all get together over Christmas to toast Neil. We will also celebrate the new addition to the family as Alice had a baby girl called Paisley Jane in June.”

On Christmas Day itself, Ms Harley will start work at 7am in order to serve breakfast while the main meal is served around 12.45pm, mostly in patients’ rooms.

“I’ve always worked Christmas Day and we always make sure the patients have whatever they want,” she says.

“There’s crackers, nice napkins and little truffles with a bag of goodies.

“We do turkey with all the trimmings but if they don’t want that they can have something else.

“We also try to make sure that the puréed meals aren’t just slop on a plate. You have to make it look nice and appetising.

“It’s very important for the patients but also the relatives as well. It’s emotional but we do try to make it special for them.

“We’ve also done an early Christmas a few times if the family can’t make it on the day.

“There are often carols and there’s a nice atmosphere with families visiting. We will make a Christmas cake or mince pies for them to have for tea in the afternoon and they usually have supper as well.”

Last Christmas, Ms Harley finished at 3pm and the hospice’s corporate fund-raiser Ben Bar-Lev volunteered to serve supper to the patients.

This meant she spent the rest of the day at home, although she had already celebrated with her family.

Ms Harley says: “I always have Christmas a week beforehand with my parents. We go to see them in Hampshire and do it early, so I get two Christmases!”

Away from Christmas, the catering team are always busy.

The three chefs and two more casual staff cook for about 600 people a month as well as baking cakes and making sweets regularly.

Between them, they are on duty 12 hours a day every day of the week.

Ms Harley says: “It’s steady all the time. Even when we are quiet with patients, there’s always something to do.

“The patients can have whatever they like. There’s a daily menu but more than 20 other suggestions for what they can have. We also do snack food for visitors and meals for staff and day hospice carers.

“When the patients first come in and we serve them their food upstairs we always have a chat with them and their relatives to see what they really like.

“If there’s something they really fancy we want to make it for them. That’s the nice thing about being here, we can form bonds with the patients and relatives.”

Mrs Duller, 47, who lives in Watlinton and has worked at the hospice for two years, adds: “The side of my job I really love is getting to chat to them.

“A few months ago one patient said they really fancied a bottle of red wine so we went out and got one.

“It’s important because it might be the last time they have that treat.”

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