St Peter's Hospice's new chief executive honoured to be leading charity in its 35th year
He may have only headed up the charity for six months, but Simon Caraffi has understood the passion for St Peter's Hospice since he first walked through the doors of its Brentry home.
The charity has been supporting people at the end of their lives since 1978. In that time 250,000 patients and families have benefited from the care it provides.
And Mr Caraffi feels that the skills he honed during his Army career make him the right person to lead the organisation as it celebrates its 35th anniversary.
A hospice might seem like a far cry from the military but Mr Caraffi found that working with people for a common purpose was one of the things he had enjoyed most during his military career and is a key part of his ethos in leading St Peter's Hospice.
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"When I first walked into reception I first thought as a building that it was impressive, but more telling was the welcome I got immediately from everyone I met," he said.
"Everyone was interested and they were keen to tell me about things. It felt exactly the type of role I was looking for and you cannot question the cause, it is such a good one and so important that I felt it was a brilliant opportunity and I was thrilled when the trustees asked me to come and work here."
St Peter's Hospice was set up when it became apparent that there was a need to support people at the end of their lives. Its roots date back to 1969 when a group was set up to see how a hospice could work. Founder Joan Bourns started the Friends of St Peter's Hospice support group and by 1977 fundraising started and a year later the first nurses started working with the hospice – initially from Lawrence Hill Clinic.
In May 1980 the inpatient unit opened in Knowle and 15 years later services moved to Brentry, initially run from a temporary building and now from the purpose-built hospice which opened in 1998. Over the years St Peter's Hospice has diversified to help patients and their families in different ways with services including music therapy and bereavement support and a team of nurses help people who want to die in their own homes.
Mr Caraffi who rose to the rank of brigadier during his time in the Army knows how important every employee, volunteer and supporter of St Peter's Hospice is and recognises how important their role is in helping the charity to support people in the Bristol area.
"The obvious people you think about in terms of the hospice are the doctors and nurses and they are a fantastic group of people," he said.
"What's less obvious are all the other people who do things. The whole commercial part of the organisation, all those people out there who work in our shops, they are earning the money that allows the care to be done and doctors and nurses to give that care. We have the people who clean the corridors and then there are all the people beavering away doing all the administrative stuff.
"What I'm really keen to do is to explore the sense that it is all one team. It doesn't matter what you do you are contributing daily to the care we deliver to people and should all take great pride in that and be proud of what we as an organisation do."
Mr Caraffi knows that the charity has been through some difficult years recently, with the unpopular decision to close the Knowle hospice in 2009, which was seen by many as the organisation's spiritual home.
"There has been a little bit of uncertainty in some areas of the hospice and I think it is important that people understand there is a degree of stability now," he said.
"I understand there is some history and I do not particularly want to comment about previous decisions – on one level they were respectable, good decisions – what's important for me is that we go forward with this great group of staff and volunteers.
"We simply cannot survive without them and our other supporters, from the person who goes into our shops to buy something or those who run in the Bristol Half Marathon, that is hugely powerful.
"How do we combine all that to the best effect in order to deliver that care? That is what we are here for."
And deciding how best to deliver care to the people has been an important part of Mr Caraffi's work as he plans for the charity's next five years.
One of the key aims for the future is for the charity to become involved with people earlier in their journey so that they can offer them the necessary support to make informed decisions about where they want to spend their last days.
"The more you can inform people the more capable they feel of making decisions," he said.
Expanding the psycho-spiritual element of the service is also among the focuses for the next few years as well as putting more services in the community so that patients can benefit from St Peter's Hospice's expertise at all stages of their journey from the diagnosis of a terminal illness.
But over the next few years the charity also needs to ensure that enough money is coming in, particularly with the changing face of the NHS affecting statutory funding.
"There is a great deal of uncertainty still," Mr Caraffi said.
"We know that the funding we get from the NHS is important to us and do not wish to lose it but we don't know how things are going to look in a year's time and are starting to build relationships with different people."
However, with faith in the charity and what it does Mr Caraffi is honoured to be leading St Peter's Hospice in its 35th anniversary year."I consider myself very fortunate to have been selected," he said.
"This year will present a great opportunity for us to show ourselves to people and I think there will be a real momentum about it."