It’s time our city honoured Robbie Williams

Fans waiting outside the home of Robbie Williams in 1994.

Fans waiting outside the home of Robbie Williams in 1994.

When I was a cub reporter in the early 1990s I was regularly sent out to Greenbank Road in Tunstall – and various other places across the Potteries – where groups of teenage girls would gather, hoping for a glimpse of their idol.

He was never there, of course, but that didn’t stop disciples of a certain Robert Peter Williams from congregating.

They travelled from all over the UK, and some from even further afield, snapping up Port Vale home shirts to take to concerts around the country in the hope the cheeky chappie from Tunstall would spot them in the crowd.

Take That were at the height of their powers back then, and our Robbie was young, single and extremely eligible.

Fast forward 20 years and much has changed. Robbie, as his fans know him, broke a million hearts by leaving the boy band which made him famous.

He enjoyed his time with numerous celebrity girlfriends, faced down his personal demons, launched a hugely successful solo career, amassed an eye-popping personal fortune, raised millions of pounds for charity, fell in love, got married and became a dad. Oh, and he saved the Vale along the way.

Everything has changed in two decades – except the fact that Rob has some of the most loyal fans of any star on the planet and it seems that a fair few of them will be heading to the Potteries in the New Year.

To mark the singer’s 40th birthday on February 13, the RWFanFest is being staged here in Rob’s home city with the twin aims of acknowledging the man’s remarkable achievements while raising money for the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice (DLCH) at Trentham Lakes – a charity close to his heart.

Organisers are planning guided bus tours around Rob’s old stomping ground, along with a charity concert and auction and a fans’ art exhibition which is being shipped over from Milan to the Burslem School of Art. (Rob’s fans on the continent – in Italy and Germany especially – are second to none. See the Diario Italiano di Robbie Williams website if you don’t believe me).

Pottery firm Wade has offered to produce souvenir ware and Port Vale staff will be holding collections for DLCH at the home game against Swindon.

Your truly will also be getting together next week with Pete Conway to plan another exhibition involving pictures and cuttings from The Sentinel’s archive along with personal mementoes and memorabilia which Rob’s dad has been collecting over the years.

It’s an exciting prospect and one which I believe affords us a great opportunity to honour one of Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous sons while raising the city’s profile.

You see, as I was listening to plans for the festival it occurred to me that we really are missing a trick.

I can’t help but think that if Rob had originated from Liverpool or Manchester or Birmingham they‘d already have a tourist trail in his name and a statue of him taking pride of place in the city centre.

I’m convinced they’d have plaques on the walls of every building he’d ever lived in and a permanent display of memorabilia at a museum somewhere.

But the sad truth is that, after 20 years of staggering success, there’s absolutely nothing here in Stoke-on-Trent to indicate to visitors that the man who is one of the UK’s biggest ever solo artists grew up here.

I think this is a crying shame and I find it somewhat baffling that our city has not yet honoured Rob in some way.

There will always, of course, be the nay-sayers. Those who don’t like the bloke or his music. Those who will point to the fact that he has lived in Los Angeles for a decade or more and who will argue that his links with the Potteries are tenuous at best. Others still will say that he’s ‘just a pop star’ and that his achievements don’t merit civic recognition. I guess it’s a bit like saying Sir Stanley Matthews CBE was ‘just a footballer’.

If you haven’t seen Robbie live I would simply say that, in my opinion, he’s one of the most charismatic and versatile entertainers this country has ever produced and the closest thing we now have to the late, great Freddie Mercury.

I think we should be incredibly proud of the fact that someone who has used his God-given talents to entertain tens of millions of people around the world hails from our neck of the woods.

If you don’t agree with me then perhaps simple statistics will persuade you.
Rob has thus far accumulated album sales of more than 70 million, had seven UK number one singles and collected 17 Brit Awards (the most of any artist). I don’t have enough room on this page to list his other awards and firsts, or his successes overseas.

Suffice to say people all over the world think he can sing a bit.

Let’s also not forget the day in 2006, two years after he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, when Rob entered the Guinness Book of World records for selling 1.6 million tickets for his tour… in just one day.

Then there’s Rob’s charity work. His biannual Soccer Aid venture – for which another Potteries star, Rob’s mate Jonny Wilkes, should also receive enormous credit – has to date raised more than £6.5 million for children’s charity UNICEF.

Robbie’s own charity Give It Sum, overseen by his mum Jan, has distributed more than £5 million to worthy causes here in his native North Staffordshire.

Now tell me that Robbie Williams doesn’t deserve a little acknowledgement from his home city.

If it were up to me I’d be giving him the freedom of Stoke-on-Trent in February, asking permission to create a permanent exhibition about him at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and perhaps even putting up a statue or naming something or somewhere in his honour.

I’d certainly rather see that than some pointless piece of art.

I’d also be putting up plaques around the city, telling visitors that our Rob once lived/was taught/bought an oatcake here.

If none of this happens then I’d simply ask that on February 13 you raise a glass to our Rob.

By anyone’s estimations, the boy done good.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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Act now to preserve historic town hall and Fenton’s unique war memorial

The Great War memorial inside Fenton Town Hall.

The Great War memorial inside Fenton Town Hall.

I received an email, out of the blue, at two minutes past four on Sunday morning.

It was sent by a man I don’t know on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean who wanted me to pass on a message of solidarity to people here in the Potteries.

Ryan Daniels is a teacher who lives in Braintree, Massachusetts.

He had spotted a video on the internet and was moved to contact The Sentinel to give his best wishes to campaigners here in Stoke-on-Trent who are campaigning to save Fenton Town Hall.

I say save because I genuinely fear for the future of this historic building, and its hidden treasures, if Fenton Community Association loses its fight.

As we approach the centenary commemorations of the start of the Great War, Ryan Daniels is one of those who is fearful that our city is about to lose something very precious indeed.

For inside Fenton Town Hall is a memorial to hundreds of men from Fenton who gave their lives for King and country during the First World War.

It is a memorial that very few people will actually have seen – unless, that is, you have had cause within the last 40 years or so to visit what was the City Magistrates’ Court.

The large plaque, made from Minton tiles, features the name of almost 500 men from the town and was commissioned just a few years after the war ended as a permanent memorial to their ultimate sacrifice.

They are names that will be familiar to Sentinel readers. Among many others, there’s an Abberley, a Bourne, a Clewlow, a Colclough, a Cope, a Durose, an Egerton, two Finneys, a Goodwin, a Holdcroft, a Meakin, a Mottram and a Povey.

The list goes on and on. All common Stokie names. All names you’ll recognise.

But you can’t visit this memorial that so few have seen because since the Ministry of Justice relocated its magistrates’ court to Newcastle-under-Lyme, Fenton Town Hall has been closed to the public.

It is now up for sale and campaigners face the daunting task of trying to raise £500,000 in just six months to purchase the building under the auspices of a community trust.

They would like to make it a focal point for the community once more. They would like local businesses to operate from inside the town hall.

But first they have to persuade the city council and the Ministry of Justice that the previous use of the building known to Sentinel hacks as ‘Fenton mags’, benefited the local community.

Given its history, I fail to see how Fenton Town Hall can be viewed as anything other than a building which has served the people of the Potteries for generations.
But perhaps that’s just me.

All that said, could it really be that the Ministry of Justice is still about to visit a great injustice on the people of Fenton and our city as a whole?

As the bean counters in Whitehall attempt to raise whatever funds they can through the sale of public assets, one has to fear for the future of the memorial.

Imagine it being bulldozed to make way for, perhaps, housing or new retail premises.

As it stands, these are very real possibilities.

Let us not forget that it is only by a quirk of fate that Fenton Town Hall finds itself in such a precarious position.

Some 10 years ago the building which brought all of the city’s magistrates’ courts under one roof in 1968, passed from local ownership to that of the state.

Suddenly, the future of one of Stoke-on-Trent’s six town halls was no longer in the hands of local people or even the local authority.

To make matters worse, Fenton Town Hall isn’t even a listed building.

Why? Because a man with a clipboard – a man perhaps used to grander architecture than this ‘portly’ Gothic edifice in red brick and stone and without a feel for the history of our city – once said so.

Personally speaking, I find it hard to conceive of a Potteries where one of the Six Towns doesn’t have a town hall – an iconic civic building to call its own.

The building of Fenton Town Hall in 1889 was funded at a cost of £6,000 by local pottery owner and philanthropist William Meath Baker.

It suppose it was no real surprise when it was chosen three decades later as the location for the impressive, tiled Great War memorial.

Fentonians of the day would doubtless have considered this a building that would last for many hundreds of years.

Yet here we are in 2013 with a huge black cloud hanging over the town hall and its hidden war memorial.

As we turn our thoughts towards commemorations for the Great War, I find it inconceivable that anyone would wish to dismantle or move this tribute to the fallen.

I hope you feel the same and are moved to sign the petition to help protect it and thereby honour the men immortalised by that long, sad roll call.

I will leave the final words to my new American friend Ryan Daniels whose great, great grandfather fought in France with a U.S. cavalry regiment during 1917-18 and, unlike the men on the Fenton memorial, was fortunate enough to make it home.

Ryan wrote: ‘I suppose I am sending this email to show that complete strangers separated by a vast ocean do care and wish goodwill to the people of Fenton in their struggle to preserve this vital piece of UK history’.

Sign the petition at: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stop-the-desecration-of-this-great-war-memorial

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Full of memories, yes, but a school will always be more than just buildings…

Yours truly with former classmates from the group of students who left Holden Lane High in 1988.

Yours truly with former classmates from the group of students who left Holden Lane High in 1988.

On Friday night I was stood there giving a brief welcome to the 300 or so people lucky enough to have secured tickets to the sell-out 50th anniversary celebration at my old school.

As a few of my former classmates watched me squirm, I talked about the place first opening its doors five decades earlier for its first intake of 600 children.

Cheers unexpectedly erupted from the bottom corner of the room where my friends and I had sat through assembly countless times.

The class of ’63 were in the hall. That was when I realised just how significant an evening it was.

When I was first contacted by current headteacher John Patino a few months ago he wanted a bit of help publicising the fact that Holden Lane High was soon to be no more.

The place where yours truly spent five (mostly) happy years is soon to be bulldozed to make way for the new Excel Academy on the site.

A new name and a fresh start for the school and local communities.

This is because buildings that generations of youngsters from Sneyd Green, Milton, Norton, Brown Edge, Baddeley Green and Smallthorne came to know so well are, quite simply, no longer fit for purpose.

What began for me as a mission to spread the word about a demolition job inevitably turned into a trip down Memory Lane.

For me, it doesn’t matter how many years have passed, when I walk down the narrow corridors and climb the stairs I’m a teenager once again.

I still keep to the left and I fully expect to hear the unmistakable voice of history teacher Mr Ball informing some poor soul they’ve got lines or detention for running or not wearing their tie properly.

On Friday night yours truly and a few friends from the class of ’88 gathered for a final wander round the place.

We began our tour outside the old headmaster’s office (it wasn’t headteacher in my day) and moved on to class rooms we remembered by sight and sometimes smell.

Like the home economics room where I once produced a passable Victoria sponge and the metalwork room where I crafted something that was supposed to be a book end but vaguely resembled medieval torture equipment.

As we walked we talked, recalling teachers whose names are imprinted on our brains.

Music teacher Mr Baddeley who fought gamely to teach me to play the recorder and PE teacher Mr Gilson who was forced to stand out in the rain with a stop watch waiting for the class asthmatic (me) to complete the cross country course most lads ran in 20 minutes.

Not much has changed, in truth – even after a quarter of a century.

The mobile classrooms where children of the 1980s and 1990s will have spent much of their time are gone but, for the most part, the main concrete edifices from the original Sixties blueprint remain.

Many of our old teachers were there for this gathering – including former head Mr Gray who we treated to a sneaky gin and tonic and sat chatting with us for much of the evening.

Of course, my friends and I were just one year group from 50. A handful among thousands.

A glance around the room told you that pupils from the Seventies, Nineties and Noughties were also well represented.

Some people might just want to forget their school days but it seems that, for many, they evoke fond memories of friendships which can endure along with the towering personalities of teachers who left such an impression and often shaped the people we became.

Holden Lane High School has had a rough trot in recent years – with damning Ofsted reports and falling pupil rolls.

But the new headteacher and his team have a plan to breathe new life into what was once one of the largest schools in the Potteries.

The intake of September 2014 and beyond deserve the Excel Academy and the multi-million pound new facilities that come with it.

But, as Friday night proved once again, a school will always be more than just a group of buildings.

A school is the people who make the rules, walk the corridors, graffiti the toilets, sweat over exams, pick fights in the playground and make eyes at that unobtainable girl (or boy) during double maths.

Good luck to all those who follow in the footsteps of the class of ’88.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Let’s give a warm welcome back to a rare local voice

BBC Radio Stoke's Paula White.

BBC Radio Stoke’s Paula White.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine made a mistake. It was the kind of error of judgement we’re all quite capable of making.

She turned up for work a bit the worse for wear. She was rather emotional, to be fair. A little ‘below par’.

The problem was that this friend of mine just happens to be a presenter on a BBC local radio station and so her mistake was shared with thousands of people.

It also happened to be genuinely hilarious. For half an hour she slurred her way through her final week-day show before being rescued by colleagues.

She didn’t say anything derogatory. She didn’t swear. She didn’t libel a listener.

She had, however, had a drink or two and so the audio train wreck made headlines in most of the national newspapers (and the local one).

The unusual 30 minute broadcast became an internet sensation – with hundreds of thousands of people listening to it.

For a brief moment only she had the kind of listener figures BBC local radio station controllers would kill for.

I’m not sure if she trended on Twitter but the clip of her faux pas has the distinction of making it on to comedy show Have I Got News For You and even overseas news channels.

A bad day at the office doesn’t cover it.

The lady in question is, of course, Paula White who has been the voice of afternoons on BBC Radio Stoke for as long as most of us can remember.

After taking some time off and issuing a public apology for her behaviour, I am delighted that Paula will soon be back on the station.

It is absolutely the right decision. After all, let’s not forget the Beeb chose to inflict the talent vacuum that is Richard Bacon back on the British public again via the medium of radio after sacking him as a telly presenter on Blue Peter when his drug use was exposed by the tabloids.

By comparison, Paula’s misdemeanour pales into insignificance and I think it’s only fair that she be welcomed back.

OK, so she appeared on radio sounding a bit squiffy and the odd Puritanical listener took umbrage.

But Paula’s not a brain surgeon or a policewoman. Nobody died as a result of her saying ‘P-A-R-T-Y… because I said so!’.

Come on, admit it, that’s still funny.

The problem is that because Paula works in the media and has a profile she’s there to be shot at.

But when considering her fate I am sure the powers-that-be at BBC Radio Stoke must have taken into consideration a number of things.

Firstly, for the last six and a half years Paula White has done a terrific job brightening up people’s afternoons and done a great deal of good for local communities and charities.

Secondly, she is one of the precious few local voices on BBC Radio Stoke and that is important.

Listeners feel comfortable with her because she knows her Biddulph from her Bentilee and can pronounce Potteries place names.

They like the fact that she grew up in this neck of the woods, remembers the SPACE Scheme, danced the night away at The Place and calls everyone ‘duck’.

Finally, Paula’s style is chatty and irreverent. She has always worn her heart on her sleeve and that is what has endeared her to so many guests and listeners over the years – listeners who have shown their support for her through social media and have written in to BBC Radio Stoke too.

Paula probably still feels mortified at what happened – not least because she thinks she let her family, friends and colleagues down.

But the truth is that ‘squiffy-gate’ is a storm in a teacup.

It should be viewed as a half-hour aberration in a broadcasting career that has spanned thousands of hours and brought a smile to many faces.

Welcome back, duck.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Inspiring partnership celebrates city’s rich sporting heritage

Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi at the Sports Awards 2012.

Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi at the Sports Awards 2012.

It’s another big week for our city, following the hugely popular visit of HRH Prince Charles to the Mother Town a few days ago.

On Thursday evening an array of stars from the world of sport will turn out at the Kings Hall in Stoke to pay homage to individuals who are perhaps less well-known but nonetheless equally deserving of praise.

The guest of honour will be Sally Gunnell OBE – our compere for the 38th year of the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality Awards.

The gold medal-winning Olympian follows in the footsteps of sporting luminaries such as Lord Sebastian Coe, James Cracknell OBE, Dave Moorcroft OBE and Jonathan Edwards CBE who have all graced the event in recent years.

Joining Sally will be a veritable who’s who of home-grown sporting legends who each year give up their time to make the event more memorable for those in attendance.

These include World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks OBE, Paralympic equestrian hero Lee Pearson OBE, Olympic gold medal-winning hockey player Imran Sherwani, former England wicket keeper Bob Taylor MBE, current England cricket star Danielle Wyatt and football pundit Mark Bright, to name but a few.

They’ll be rubbing shoulders on the red carpet with Potteries football royalty like John Rudge and Micky Adams.

The list goes on…

It really is a night to reflect on Stoke-on-Trent’s rich sporting history and our celebrity guests add a touch of glamour to what is a very prestigious occasion.

We’ll be handing out the Sir Stanley Matthews Potteries Footballer of the Year Awards to a Stoke City and Port Vale player and inducting two more famous faces into the Civic Sporting Hall of Fame.

But the real focus on Thursday’s event is on the achievements, endeavour and selflessness of individuals and teams who may never hit the big time or make national headlines.

That said, their contribution to sport in our patch is exceptional and well worth celebrating.

Indeed, this is why in 1975 councillor Tom Brennan came up with the idea of a civic event, championed by The Sentinel, to pay homage to the unsung heroes and heroines of local sport.

The City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards has come along way since those early days when a few dozen people attended a buffet and prize giving.

It’s now a black tie event for more than 300 guests with video tributes to all shortlisted nominees which you’ll be able to view on The Sentinel’s website on Friday morning.

But the ethos of the awards remains the same: To honour the local footballers, cricketers, rugby players, martial artists, cyclists, coaches, officials and competitors across a range of sports and sporting disciplines.

They make all the wet Sunday mornings, the endless training sessions, the fund-raising and administrative nightmares worthwhile.

Most of those who we will be honouring on Thursday will not be household names but, through their efforts, they touch the lives of thousands of people in the Potteries.

Their walk on to the freshly-painted stage, accompanied by music and the warm applause of a packed Kings Hall to receive their trophy from a celebrity and have their photograph taken, may only take a few minutes.

But it will hopefully create a memory that will last a lifetime and we will chronicle it for them.

I think there must, sadly, be a perception among some city councillors that journalists at The Sentinel spend all their time thinking up negative stories about them and the local authority.

This is presumably one of the reasons why communications gurus come and go with such regularity and there seems to be a constant appetite for reviewing the council’s press and PR strategies.

However, the truth is somewhat different to the perception of some elected members.

The vast majority of council-related stories carried by this newspaper are positive or neutral and that’s a fact.

What’s more, Thursday night proves that our partnership activities with the authority are a real success – genuinely aspirational and important events for the city as a whole.

Along with The Sentinel Business Awards, the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality is a key event in the city’s calendar with a long and distinguished history.

Long may it continue to reward and inspire.

*Follow @SentinelStaffs on Twitter for updates on Thursday night as the winners are announced. Full coverage of the event in Friday’s Sentinel and online.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

I’m proud of the latest piece in Hanley’s jigsaw puzzle

Hanley's new bus station.

Hanley’s new bus station.

In April 2001 Stoke-on-Trent was branded the worst place to live in England and Wales in a survey of hundreds of towns and cities.

The Potteries was placed at the bottom of a quality of life league table covering more than 370 council areas.

This damning judgement was made by researchers from global information solutions consultant Experian who pulled together data for the Sunday Times on subjects ranging from housing, jobs, traffic congestion and schools to crime and even shopping.

Other national newspapers then followed this up – with one tabloid even using a picture of Hanley Bus Station at its most depressing to reinforce the report’s findings.

While there was understandable outrage here in the city over the study’s findings, few could argue with the choice of image used by that one paper to represent our city centre.

The bus station looked like what it was – a grim, decaying, concrete carbuncle blighted by vacant shops.

If nothing else it backed up what most people in these parts had been saying for 20 years about the need for a new bus station.

I wonder what picture the red tops would use to show Stoke-on-Trent in a grim light in 2013?

Presumably one of the many areas of cleared land where the RENEW North Staffordshire Pathfinder project bulldozed scores of terraced homes.

Or perhaps some of the emails that were flirting about when certain people wanted to close Dimensions…

It certainly wouldn’t be our brand spanking new £15 million bus station which officially opened this morning.

I, for one, love this iconic piece of architecture which gives a nod to our heritage through the use of materials used in its construction but is also bold and modern in its design.

It’s the kind of development that makes a welcoming statement to visitors as they arrive in Hanley – irrespective of how far they have travelled.

Like I did when the enormous new Tesco opened up, I Tweeted proudly about the new bus station – having driven past it the other night when it was all lit up.

I was inevitably met with derision from those who simply couldn’t understand what I was getting excited about.

That’s because they aren’t from this neck of the woods.

Anyone who travelled on a PMT or Sammy Turner’s bus during the Eighties and Nineties and either arrived at or left from Hanley Bus Station will tell you they couldn’t wait to get out of there.

It was dark, dirty and graffiti-strewn and only the smell of freshly-baked bloomer loaves from the bakery in the underpass could hide the smell of urine.

The bus station, shopping area (I use that term loosely) and the multi-story car park were well past their use-by date and we could all see it.

Yes the powers-that-be have gone and called it Stoke-on-Trent City Centre Bus Station in their quest to airbrush one of the Six Towns out of history but we locals will all still refer to it as Hanley Bus Station.

Whatever its name, we should be proud that another piece of the jigsaw puzzle has fallen into place.

First Tesco. Now the bus station. If we can: Revamp the Potteries Museum to better showcase the Staffordshire Hoard, our Spitfire and our pots; Finish the restoration of Bethesda Chapel; Find a new use for the old Town Hall and secure that oddly-titled new shopping complex we will genuinely have a city centre worthy of the name.

In the meantime, I’m sure Ambassador Theatre Group – which operates The Regent Theatre and Victoria Hall – along with other city centre businesses must be chuffed to bits that a) the bus station work is complete and b) that the new main terminus is hi-tech, clean and safe.

There’s an awful lot of negativity about the city centre at the moment – especially from those campaigning against the council moving its Civic Centre to the new Central Business District.

There are those who feel that Hanley (or the city centre as we’re supposed to start calling it) gets all the cash and all the effort at the expense of Burslem, Fenton, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall.

While I would agree that more needs to be done to help each of the towns develop its own unique selling point I can also understand what the city council is trying to do up ’Anley.

The ambition is to create a powerful brand and, like it or not, Hanley has been the beating heart of the Potteries for many years.

To that end I’m genuinely thrilled to see the new bus station open and I am now looking forward to the completion of the City Sentral shopping centre.

Even if it is a daft name.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

Proud legacy that keeps on giving after 40 years

Sign pointing motorists to the Dougie Mac hospice.

There is a place in Blurton which is very close to the hearts of the people of North Staffordshire.

It’s a sprawling site, much of which isn’t visible as you drive past, and it may not look much from the outside.

However, looks can be deceptive and inside this very special place people find the strength, hope and courage to face the very worst that life can throw at them.

I am, of course, talking about the Douglas Macmillan Hospice which this year celebrates four decades of caring for people with life-limiting illnesses.

It is no exaggeration to say that most people in our neck of the woods know someone who has benefited from the ‘Dougie Mac’ – as it is known locally.

I’m no exception. My auntie Jean received invaluable support from the community nursing team during her final days.

Without the hospice, it is almost impossible to imagine just how many people with terminal illnesses, and their relatives, would cope.

This is the thought which perhaps spurred the pioneers back in the early 1970s who worked tirelessly to create what was the termed a ‘terminal care home’ here in the Potteries.

It was in 1969 that the North Staffordshire committee of the National Society for Cancer Relief (NSCR) received a grant of £50,000 to help create the Douglas Macmillan Home which was to be used exclusively for cancer patients.

A public fund-raising appeal was then launched with the aim of raising £330,000 in 10 years.

Thanks to the generosity of individuals, businesses and local authorities, the target was reached in just four years.

On January 2, 1973, the first in-patient was admitted to the home (the name hospice was introduced some years later).

As it has today, the in-patient unit had 28 beds – although, back then, each cost £7.20 per day. Patients were initially admitted for the remainder of the lives – whether that be a few days, several months or, as happened with one resident, 14 years.

When the home opened nursing staff consisted of five sisters, one staff nurse, two enrolled nurses and 15 nursing auxiliaries.

It’s a far cry from the Dougie Mac of today which boasts more than 250 full and part-time staff – including 50 people working out in the community – and more than 800 volunteers.

Over the years the home became a hospice which diversified so that it no longer focused its services solely on cancer patients.

From one main group of buildings which included the in-patient unit, a chapel and mortuary, the hospice has grown exponentially across the site.

The 1980s were a period of huge expansion for Dougie Mac, as summed up by Lynne Johnson who was the cook in charge when she joined in 1984.

She recalled: “During my 12 years of service I saw the hospice develop from a small, homely place to a centre of excellence – still holding on to the friendly atmosphere which attracted me initially.”

During the Eighties:
Bereavement care was introduced (1980)
Care in the community began (1983)
The day care unit became operational (1985)

A summerhouse was donated for the garden and the first ‘Light up a life’ Christmas tree service was held in 1989. This was also the year the hospice purchased its first computer which was used by the finance department.

Over the years a Community Nurse Specialist Team (PCNS), a Hospice at Home service and an Education Centre have all been added.

These are now all supported by a full range of clinical support services which include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, lymphoedema, chaplaincy, bereavement support, social work, psychology and diversional therapies.

As Dougie Mac celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, there’s no doubt its founders would be proud of their legacy which just keeps on giving to the people of North Staffordshire.

*The Sentinel will be publishing a special supplement to mark the Dougie Mac’s 40th anniversary in its editions on Tuesday, February 5.