Securing a place of dignity

MARGARET Chadd is in a celebratory mood. P.D. James, her friend and Southwold neighbour, has just emailed to pledge a donation to the East Coast Hospice.

MARGARET Chadd is in a celebratory mood. P.D. James, her friend and Southwold neighbour, has just emailed to pledge a donation to the East Coast Hospice.

The veteran campaigner for better care for the dying says: 'People now need to have a full choice as to where they should die, and that must include a hospice with its various facilities to provide the best possible quality of care for the end of life.

'A hospice is an umbrella covering all the needs of those facing the end of life - offering total ongoing support not only for the patient but also for relatives after the patient has died.'

In fact, given her record of advocacy, the residential and respite care centre for the terminally ill, earmarked for a farmland site on the edge of Gorleston, and opening as soon as a �5m fund-raising campaign is completed, is to be called Margaret Chadd House.

Although the recipient of the naming honour is rather embarrassed, it is richly deserved. She first mooted the idea of a hospice for the people of the Yarmouth and Waveney areas 30 years ago - and many hopes have risen and fallen since then until we reach the solid foundations of the present.

Margaret Collett was born in Bromley in 1922, but enjoyed childhood holidays in Southwold since her great grandfather had built houses in Field Stile Road and one was retained for the family.

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Her father had been shot down over Germany, wounded and then imprisoned, in June 1918. Like most other maimed survivors of the first world war he drew a veil of silence over horror.

Margaret trained as a Hospital Lady Almoner - a welfare post now replaced by social workers with little if any medical training. During the second world war she worked at the now legendary Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead under pioneering plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe.

Her job lay in rehabilitation. 'Many of the patients were young pilots, often with severe burns to their faces and hands, some had frostbite,' she says. 'Most of them were there for five years. You forgot to look at their faces - it was the person underneath which mattered.

'We had only prontosil and saline baths then, but we never had any patients with bedsores or anybody who died from their burns. It is interesting to compare that with the record of infection control these days.'

Surgery and dignity were given equal weight. Members of the McIndoe Guinea Pig Club could wear their RAF uniforms or civilian clothes and local people were encouraged to accept them and to welcome them into their homes so that East Grinstead became 'the town that did not stare'.

After the war, based in Lewes Castle, the then County Almoner for East Sussex was responsible for caring for the terminally ill who were often 'put in institutions with little cell-like rooms. Occasionally pushed out on to a balcony in warm weather, and perhaps being given a bit of cane work to do, they were really just left to wait to die.'

She met up with Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, the famous RAF pilot who was trying to turn a large and derelict country house he had inherited into his first Cheshire Home.

He wanted to take five of her patients at �2.50 apiece per week, but after an interrogation by the full council Margaret was told 'we do not consider that Leonard Cheshire is a financially viable proposition'. Though not her first experience of obtuse officialdom - and very far from the last - the dismissal of the man who went on to found more than 150 Cheshire Homes all over the world was certainly a corker.

Meeting Colonel George Chadd in Southwold, she married him in 1950. Ted Heath, a war-time friend of the groom, was their best man and later godfather to Christopher, the eldest of their four sons.

They lived just outside Lowestoft, where Colonel Chadd ran the family retailing business. Alas, he had had to sell Southwold's Grand Hotel in order to buy their marital home, and, to their dismay, the war-damaged seafront building was later demolished.

In the summer of 1974, Christopher Chadd was helping to take the lately-ousted Prime Minister's yacht, Morning Cloud, back to Cowes when the boat capsized in a storm and he drowned. Exactly two years later his student brother Timothy was killed by a hit and run driver when on holiday in France.

'I began by asking 'Why me?' but then that changed to 'Why not me?'' says Margaret Chadd. 'Grief is the price of love and therefore worth paying.

'It was hard but with the help of family, friends and our spiritual faith, we had to accept that there would always be pieces missing in the family jigsaw and we just had to get on with the life that was left to us. Life is a series of chapters - when one ends another must start.'

So she helped to set up a new organisation for grieving parents called Compassionate friends and then trained in London as a Cruse bereavement counsellor.

In 1947 she had met a fellow almoner called Cicely Saunders, who later trained as a doctor and was struck by the fact that hospitals coped only with the 'curing and healing' aspect of care - doing nothing to deal with the crucial matter of death.

The result in 1967, after titanic and heroic struggles, was the opening of the pioneering St Christopher's Hospice at Sydenham in South London. Margaret learned about death, bereavement and pain relief there, also acting as the centre's almoner for a spell.

After that she served as organiser for the Waveney branch of Cruse and a very caring Lowestoft magistrate - each for 24 years. In this period the Chadds moved to an ancient house in Wangford, where they created a garden in memory of their two sons.

Colonel Chadd - a former deputy lieutenant for Suffolk - died in 1997 and his widow moved to a flat in Southwold six years later.

With her two surviving sons, two 'super daughters-in-law' and six grandchildren, plus a mass of friends and hobbies, and ongoing travels, she was always intending to retire…but the telephone kept ringing with interesting new challenges, and most especially the dream of the East Coast Hospice.

What is the secret of campaigning success? 'Don't live with animosity. Keep on building bridges. Rope in all your friends!

'But I'm of no account really - being long past my sell-by date,' she insists. 'It's the patients that matter.'

And with that a lover of life unfolds the building plans for the East Coast Hospice and becomes absorbed in a brighter future and in better care for the dying.

For more information on the East Coast Hospice call 01493 655122 (or visit