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Bishop's Stortford woman Helen Glenister appointed chief executive of Isabel Hospice



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The new chief executive officer of Isabel Hospice is a Bishop's Stortford woman whose passion for the charity precedes her appointment.

Helen Glenister, who has lived in the town for nearly 40 years, leads by example. She has completed the hospice's annual On Your Bike fundraiser several times, including the maximum 100k (62-mile) distance, and, as a regular of Stortford's weekly parkrun who has notched up nearly 100 runs, she has signed up for the charity's newest challenge: a 5k cross-country run at the Woodhall estate in Watton-at-Stone on March 29.

Tasked with ensuring the charity meets its annual £6.2m running costs – that's £17,000 a week – she is intent on putting herself out there, focused ultimately on helping those who need the hospice's care and support most: patients and their families.

Helen Glenister, Isabel Hospice's new CEO (31141725)
Helen Glenister, Isabel Hospice's new CEO (31141725)

The mother of three grown-up children – sons Robert and Stephen and daughter Rosie – lives in Grange Park and has been an Isabel Hopice trustee and vice-chair of the board of trustees since 2016. She served as interim CEO for five months prior to the appointment of outgoing chief exec Robin Webb and, having lived in the town since the 1980s, had "always been aware of Isabel Hospice".

With a wealth of experience in the health industry, working first as a nurse before moving on to the Department of Health and then back to the NHS and being involved with private and charity sectors, she is perfectly placed to steer the charity forwards, keen to collaborate with other health organisations and charities to ensure the quality of care is always the highest it can be.

"The theme throughout my career has been that I am absolutely passionate about the quality of care for patients and the people we serve," she said.

Helen, who plays the viola in her spare time, relaxes at home in Grange Park in Bishop's Stortford (31153913)
Helen, who plays the viola in her spare time, relaxes at home in Grange Park in Bishop's Stortford (31153913)

"I am a non-executive director of the Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust and also chair of a health social enterprise in London, so I would like to think I bring experience to the job.

"I decided I wanted to do something more local and my aim is to do the utmost best for the hospice in terms of quality of care and the services we provide.

"There are limitations. We have to work within the finances we have and so need to raise money through fund-raising and through our shops across the area. It's a case of looking at our services and the effectiveness and efficiency of them so that we can touch as many patients as we can."

Isabel Hospice covers East Herts, helping 1,855 people from 596 families offering different settings of care and support. Most patients (1,100) are "out in the community", 411 rely on its hospice at home services and 183 at its inpatient units.

Helen at Isabel Hospice's Bishop's Stortford charity shop in Bridge Street (31153915)
Helen at Isabel Hospice's Bishop's Stortford charity shop in Bridge Street (31153915)

For Helen, it is important to try to dispel the myths surrounding hospice care where people envisage "a building".

She said: "We support so many people out in the community, which is where people want to be.

"Our strategy has been 'more and earlier', having contact with people much earlier, not just the last few weeks of life.

Helen Glenister with Alison Stirton Croft at the Living Well with Isabel hub (31153911)
Helen Glenister with Alison Stirton Croft at the Living Well with Isabel hub (31153911)

"Many of our patients dip in and out of our services. We support them and give them and their carers the confidence to manage some of the symptoms and we keep in touch, but we're not providing support all the time. They will be fine for many months and then they may come back to us, so it's more about a journey than an end point."

She referred to a patient they were working with who wanted to spend Easter in the Lake District - "we try to keep things as normal as possible and stable so that things don't come to a crisis point."

Isabel Hospice employs 200 people, 150 full-time staff and has an army of 750 volunteers.

"They are our biggest people resource," said Helen. "They support our shops, fund-raising, they sit with patients, can offer counselling... we have a great set of volunteers. And, of course, we have the amazing Renee Friend, who has been with us for 35 years and is always looking for an opportunity to fundraise."

And while the volunteers are a vital cog in the wheel, Helen's priority lies with the patients, with whom she has already had face-to-face meetings in her first week.

"As CEO you have got to be operating at a strategic level and taking the hospice forwards. You have to balance your time, but I am a people person, I talk to people and interact with people at all levels, so that's why it was a priority for me to see some patients in my first week and to visit staff and our shops."

With the millions needed just to keep the service running, charity shop donations are particularly key.

Stortford's Bridge Street branch, like so many others, was a vital source of income and she urged people to continue to donate. "We are so dependent on these donations. In general, hospice donations are quite low at the moment, so with £6.2 million to raise every year, we would encourage people to keep donating."

There is no doubt that Helen is a busy individual and has many strings to her bow, most notably as a keen musician who plays the viola with Saffron Walden Symphony Orchestra.

Rod Leggetter, chair of the Isabel Hospice board of trustees, said: "Helen is incredibly passionate about Isabel Hospice, our patients, our families, our staff and our volunteers. The board and I are delighted to welcome her on board as our new CEO following the significant contribution she has made as trustee”.



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