St Francis Hospice 30for30: Founder Joan Matthews spent her final hours in the hospice she made possible

12:00 15 March 2014

Joan Matthews in 2010

Joan Matthews in 2010


As we continue our 30for30 appeal we profile its founder Joan Matthews and discover how the hospice all started with a five pound note.

Donate here:

Donate online through our Just Giving page by following the link below or contact the hospice fundraising team on 01708 771407.

Alternatively you could send a cheque made payable to Saint Francis Hospice: Saint Francis Hospice, The Hall, Havering-atte-Bower, RM4 1QH.

Please write “Recorder/Post appeal” on the back.

It was through her work at Havering Community Health Council that Joan Matthews first noticed the need for a hospice in 1977.

She wasted no time and dug deep in her pockets to get the plan in motion.

“Peter Smith [fellow volunteer] and I had a meeting at Dr Dorothy Rule’s flat in Hornchurch to talk about registering as a charity so that we could start fundraising,” she said during an interview in 2008.

“When we finished the meeting we dipped into our purses and each put a £5 note on the table.

“It was significant because those were the first funds collected.”

Joan was instrumental in setting up fundraising groups to finance its development.


In 1978 she identified

Havering Hall in Havering-atte-Bower as a suitable location and went on to raise £350,000 for the building to begin in 1982.

Over the years Joan worked tirelessly to see the hospice grow into one of the largest in the UK.

Gill Wendelken, 55, the hospice’s voluntary services manager, worked with Joan from the beginning and described her as “a magnet who managed to pull people to the project”.

She added: “Anybody who stopped and listened to her, you could just see them change.

“She spoke with such conviction and love for the service.”

Today the hospice provides more than 3,000 people from Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Brentwood and Havering with medical and emotional care and support each year.

From 1988 until 2011 Joan was a volunteer chaplain’s assistant and regularly visited the patients relying on the facilities.

Despite her involvement in the hospice, the badge she wore simply read “Joan – volunteer”, a label that encapsulated her modest, humble personality.

In 2007 she received a prestigious Order of Mercy award from the League of Mercy Foundation for her care for the sick, the elderly and the dying.


She supervised many changes to the hospice over the years and was on the board of trustees from 1978, going on to be the hospice’s only Founder Trustee in 2011.

Joan cared passionately about the hospice until her final moments, asking chief executive Pam Court about its latest developments as she lay on her death bed.

She died peacefully on-site on April 22, 2013, transferring from Southend Hospital so she could spend her final moments in the establishment she had devoted her life to creating.

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