THE sound of laughter is not what you expect to hear when you enter a hospice caring for seriously ill people but that is exactly what happened when I visited Butterwick Hospice’s day centre in Bishop Auckland.

Many of the women who were enjoying the respite care were suffering from debilitating and terminal illnesses but they were not letting that get in the way a good chat, a game of bingo or their weekly exercise regime.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Hospice visitors enjoying some light exercise

The Hospice is fighting back after staff and volunteers endured a difficult and, at times, traumatic two years following the arrest of its former chief executive, Graham Leggatt Chidgey, for committing fraud.

Throughout the difficult period, the care of patients remained at the forefront of everything that the charity stands for – and listening to some of them talk about their experiences – it is clear that the staff and volunteers succeeded in delivering compassionate care.

Brenda Angus, who has battled with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) emphysema for decades.

However, the 67-year-old, from Newton Aycliffe, refuses to let it take away her infectious laugh and loves her time at the hospice.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Brenda Angus

“They are absolutely amazing here,” she said. “I come here once a week and it gives my husband Roy a chance to have a break as he cares for me 24 hours a day. As well as coming to the hospice I also receive counselling and that has been a great help to me. I was getting pretty down but the support I have had has been a real boost to me.

“I love my time here as it can be such a good laugh, everyone gets on well and we all support each other through our illnesses.”

One of the activities that gives the patients some exercise is the parachute game and within seconds of starting it you can hear the laughter echoing around the room.

But one of the most important benefits of the respite care is the friendship and comradeship they all feel for each other.

Shirley Ann Hull, who lives near to the Bishop Auckland hospice, said: “I have been coming here for two years since I was diagnosed with cancer, so days we have a great deal of fun and other days it is just nice to have a chat and a cup of tea with people who are going through a similar experience as yourself.”

And Marjorie Huberry, 83, added: “Everyone really seems to get on well and it’s good to be able to spend time with people who you know are going through the same thing as you – it stops you feeling isolated and lonely.”

In March 2017, the hospice found itself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons when their disgraced former chief executive was arrested for defrauding the charity out of tens of thousands of pounds over an almost eight-year period.

Last year he was jailed for four years after he pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud at Teesside Crown Court. There are still ongoing legal proceedings which aim to recover the money that Leggatt Chidgey wasted on exclusive holidays, designer clothes and luxury goods.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Disgraced former chief executive Graham Leggatt Chidgey

However, the negative impact of his criminality is still being felt today.

And raising funds for the charity has been difficult in the wake of his arrest and subsequent jailing but now the dedicated team behind the hospice are hopeful they are turning a corner with a new intake of board members.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Pictured above, Judith Hunter, the chair of Trustees for the charity, said: “As a charity we do rely very heavily on the community support all of our events and whilst we have seen a loss of confidence from some people in the organisation, we have seen some new people coming in.

“We have got lots of new people from a very diverse background who have joined the board of trustees and they are all local people who know what we can actually do and they want to be involved in helping us to move forward and that can only be encouraging.

“I am very positive and very optimistic, there are some very important events in the history of the hospice coming up. It is forty years since Mary Butterwick, the founder lost her husband John, which is very sad, however, it is memory of John that the hospice was created so we need to celebrate that.

“Mary was a forward thinker in creating Butterwick Hospice and it is my aim as the chair that we continue for many, many years to come.”

For further details about the hospice – which has bases in Stockton and Bishop Auckland – and the services its provides, you should visit or call 01388-603003 or 01642-607742.