The legacy of Maggie and Charles. Plus fancy dress swap shop?

Two stories this week – I was struck by how much Charles Jencks has achieved with the creation of 20 Maggie’s Centres. What a tremendous legacy. And in my quest to avoid waste (and save money) I’m offering to swap my surprisingly large collection of fancy dress costumes… but no-one is taking me up on the offer!

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Thank you to Maggie, and to Charles.

Maggie’s Highlands in the grounds of Raigmore Hospital

It’s a while since I’ve been through the doors of Maggie’s Highlands, but every time I have been in the building I’ve been struck by the serenity of the atmosphere and warmth of the welcome. I was invited to the building’s official opening over a decade ago and have popped in from time to time when I’ve hosted fundraising events for them. So, although I never met him, I was saddened to hear of the death last weekend of the Maggie’s Centres co-founder, the architect and designer Charles Jencks.

There are around 20 Maggie’s centres across the UK and abroad. Named after Charles’ wife Maggie, they are built in the grounds of NHS cancer hospitals. In 1993 Maggie was given just a few months to live after being told her breast cancer had returned. In fact, she lived for 18 months. And while the medical care Maggie received from the NHS was exemplary, she felt the ‘softer’ side of care was lacking and wanted to improve the situation for future patients.

Not ‘lose the joy of living in the fear of dying’

Charles Jencks

During the time Maggie had left, she and Charles worked with one of Maggie’s oncology nurses to develop a new approach to cancer care, which would offer emotional and practical support to help patients not “lose the joy of living in the fear of dying”. Maggie’s Centres would, they decided, be restful and comforting environments. They would give patients and their families and friends somewhere homely to go where they could offload worries to trained medical staff and counsellors, get practical advice that would help with the day-to-day business of living with cancer or just sit with a cup of tea between treatments. The first centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996, Highland’s centre in the grounds of Raigmore in Inverness opened a few years later. Each centre has been individually designed; many have won awards.

I have never walked into Maggie’s Highlands and not been glad I visited… within minutes I have been ushered towards the kitchen table and been offered a cup of tea. There’s usually some home baking on the go and there’s often the sound of laughter; there are open spaces with cushions and throws, and peaceful aspects out into the gardens. And there are quiet corners too; room for contemplation.

The relief of being able to ask questions in their own time

I’m lucky – I have never had to use a Maggie’s Centre for its designed purpose, but I have suggested it to friends living with cancer, and – crucially – to their family members too. They have told me of the relief of being able to ask – again – and in their own time, about all the different treatment options and about potential side-effects. They have received advice about how and how much to tell colleagues at work about their illness and have attended classes on well-being; yoga and tai chi, nutrition, even on how to apply make-up when their eye lashes fell out after chemotherapy.

Maggie’s legacy has been remarkable, and her name lives on through the centres. But that legacy wouldn’t have been as far-reaching or as long-lasting without the determination of her husband Charles.

Next time a friend or colleague is fundraising for Maggie’s, donate an extra few quid, if you can, in memory of Charles. I hope you never need to visit the centre for real, but it’s good to know it’s there.

Fancy Dress Swap Shop?

Stop the pigeon…

Second-hand September’s influence continues. Apart from one jacket I’ve still not spent a penny on clothes since June. The hashtag #20wears, encouraging us to shop more mindfully and invest in good quality, stylish clothing instead of fast fashion, is gaining traction. I support that – for most of my clothes the wear-count must be well into the 100s. But with Hallowe’en and fancy dress parties looming, half the fun is the element surprise of surprise.

Reluctant to splash out on something new (and being a klutz with the sewing machine) I took inspiration from Swap Shop and put a post on Facebook. Surely someone else would rather trade than spend money?

My offering is impressive: an outrageous Abba costume, Super Mario’s brother Luigi, a generic Cardinal, his-and-hers Where’s Wally outfits (complete with glasses) and, from Whacky Races, an excellent Dick Dastardly and Penelope Pitstop.

To my disappointment, my Facebook post has provoked much hilarity but not a single offer of a swap. Are we the only ones dressing up this year? Or do none of my friends have faith in my laundry skills? So, I am widening the offer. Who’ll swap with me? There’s just one thing to remember… Mr Marr is 6’7” in his stocking feet. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves need not apply.

Where’s Wally? On the washing line! I did wash it after wear, honest…!

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