A brief history of the League of Friends
There were many groups of volunteers in hospitals before the birth of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1949. It was established to 'take care of people from the cradle to the grave’ and meant the many hospitals voluntary groups disbanded.
It was decided that an association of friends would be formed, and the League of Friends was officially founded in 1951 and started working in the old porter’s lodge at the front of the hospital. In 1980, the office was extended by renovating the old toilet block next door - how's that for luxury and being spoilt! Although there was a new name, the criteria were still the same: to make life more comfortable for patients and a bit easier for staff.
The League's original brief was 'to provide amenities for patients and staff, which cannot be provided by the NHS'. Initially, we raised funds for curtains, bedside cupboards, hairdryers and night clothes. This work was funded through whist drives, raffles, Summer and Christmas Markets and Plant sales and box collections to name but a few.
Over the years, due to medical advances, the money requested soared so ideas and especially volunteers, were needed to help generate the extra funding. Summer and Christmas markets became a normal occurrence, with many hours of planning spent on organising these events. The money raised from these markets was in the region of £6,000 which - looking back - was quite an achievement for the 1970 and 1980s.
Membership was encouraged, as was volunteering. However, volunteers were, due to very few wives and mothers working years ago, a lot easier to find than in modern days.
The tea bar was opened first, followed by the shop. The ward trolley catered for patients who could not leave the wards or who didn't get visitors, taking a small selection of shop goods to their bedside. Unlike today, it was quite normal for patients to stay in hospital for 14 days after an operation. We started the library trolley service and had portable telephone trolleys installed so patients could keep in touch with their loved ones.
A flower shop was the next initiative for us when it became apparent that weekends and evenings were not being catered for. Although it started life as a flower shop, it soon became clear that hot drinks were needed too, plus sweets, biscuits, and later birthday cards. The charity shop opened in 2000, selling items and clothes that people had donated to us.
Over the years, all our outlets continued with support from staff, our members, and the general public.
When Maud Stewart, Chairman of the Sutton League of Friends, retired, we decided that the best option was for the two leagues to merge, and in 1996 the two became one. However, this wasn't an easy transition because, for many years, we had been two separate organisations, but we were both there for the same reasons, to help provide the best amenities for the patients.
Once we realised that we were there to complement each other and not as rivals, the relationship between us flourished and now we really are one group of friends, doing what we can to help people in and around the hospital.
We have raised over £10,000,000 since our start and have funded many requests, including some very big ones:
- MRI scanner: £500,000 raised
- CT scanner
- Whitfield Unit (B1) for palliative care patients
- 'Screen our Babies' appeal
- Renal unit: £50,000
- Maternity high dependency unit for high-risk pregnant women: almost £100,000
- Endoscopy unit: £175,000.
This is just a tiny selection of the many hundreds of requests we have received over the years. Our fundraising strategy hasn't changed that much: we still continue with sales (although not the big markets anymore), raffles and a cash prize draw (through our newsletters), donation boxes, membership, legacies and of course through our shop and tea bar.
Any money we receive, whether it's a large or small donation, is warmly welcomed. Especially as technology and medical advances, equipment is becoming more and more expensive, and we are being asked for more and more money all the time. To be able to help, we need your support both financially and as volunteers.