A pioneering service offers an alternative option for those needing end of life support, as Helen Stockton discovered when she visited the Cottage Hospice
Those of us in Sussex, know what a special place it is, but just occasionally, it offers something that breaks new ground on a national basis. Looking to find such innovation, you might be tempted to seek it in one of the big towns or cities, but on this occasion, you’d discover it in a small village in East Sussex.
Five Ashes, situated on the A267 between Heathfield and Mayfield, has the UK’s first and only Cottage Hospice. Opened in December 2019 by Hospice in the Weald, the aim is to offer a service that falls between hospice care in a patient’s own home, and the In-Patient ward at the main hospice in Pembury, Kent. As Tor Edwards, from Hospice in the Weald, explained, the Cottage Hospice aims to accommodate a previously unmet need, allowing patients nearing the end of their lives, to be looked after by those that they love. It also enables end of life care in the region to be extended, providing an additional service for people who prefer not to be in hospital at this time. Patients, and their caregivers, are supported by a team of trained volunteers and medical staff, including nurses and specially trained paramedics, in an environment that aims to create a home from home.
The Cottage Hospice is as innovative in its construction as it is in its function. The architecture is modern, with the curves of its living roof, helping it to blend into the countryside that surrounds it. This natural theme continues on the inside, with the supporting struts in the full-height atrium, curving upwards to suggest trees, and wooden finishes in the rooms providing a more natural, less institutional feel, than plastic or metal. The ten rooms are named after trees, and each has a private veranda, offering an outside space that connects to the wider environment. There are views across the surrounding countryside and the grounds blend seamlessly with the land beyond. Five Ashes sits in an area of outstanding natural beauty and the hospice takes full advantage of this, placed on a ridge that overlooks the surrounding area.
The quality of the accommodation and furnishings is reminiscent of an up-market country hotel, with beds for the patient and for a family member, which can be pushed together as required to create a double. There are ensuite bathrooms, comfortable chairs and soft furnishings, with internet access and a fully-equipped communal kitchen offering quality ready meals, together with a laundry, so that carers are also fully provided for. Much thought has been given to the décor and interior, to provide a relaxed and informal feel whilst making it a practical place for meeting the care needs of those nearing the end of their lives. Patients are even able to bring their pets with them, an important consideration for many families.
The hospice was built on land that previously accommodated the Church of the Good Shepherd, and features from the old wooden building, such as the stained-glass windows and the arch celebrating the beginning of the millennium, have been incorporated into the new construction, offering continuity with the past. The atrium area is a multi-functional space where church services would normally be offered for the wider community. There is a café area and it is a light, airy and welcoming place.
Yet, its most outstanding innovative feature is in the nature of the care and support it offers. It is not a conventional hospice; it aims to replicate the feeling of home, but whenever help is needed, night or day, practical or emotional, there is always support for the patients, and their families who are caring for them. So far 90 families have taken advantage of this new style of hospice care, and it has a present cohort of 32 volunteers, with additional help always welcome. Across the country, the eyes of the palliative care community are on this new facility. The Cottage Hospice is leading the way for change in providing the best possible ways of dealing with the inevitable reality of dying, and Sussex has offered a warm hello to a different option on the conventional settings for goodbyes. This has got to be positive.
For more information please visit www.hospiceintheweald.org.uk