In 1983, the first patient was admitted to St Wilfrid’s Hospice in Mill Gap Road. His name was Denis Nolan, and Sheila, his wife of 21 years, has kindly shared their story.

Sheila (top left) and Denis (top right) with their sons (bottom L to R) Lee, Guy and Jay

‘Before Denis was admitted to the hospice, we had trouble finding a Macmillan Nurse. Life was very busy; I had four children, a sick husband and I was still working, so I really needed someone to come and support us. When we were eventually given one, they passed Denis’ details on to Dr Joan Hester who came to review him. “Straight to the hospice” she said.

‘I had worked with Dr Hester at the Eastbourne DGH, so I trusted her when Denis went into the hospice.

‘When we first arrived, I remember thinking how beautiful the building was. Denis had a single room which looked out on to the front garden. It was a completely different environment to the hospital and our home, where it was very loud with the children being there and our neighbours were having an extension built. It was peaceful and it felt like we could finally sit and talk openly. We were able to discuss what he wanted, and he made all his own decisions. They were hard discussions, but I’m grateful that we were able to have them.

Denis with their foster daughter Zoe. Sheila adopted Zoe after Dennis died.

‘He was frightened, he didn’t want me out of his sight, so I stayed with him 24/7. The hospice looked after the both of us until he died on the 8th December 1983, aged 43.

‘I am so grateful to everybody who was involved with Denis’ care and that will never go away. I can’t tell you how glad I was that the hospice opened the day it did. There were a lot of complaints when the idea of a hospice first came about, but it was the best place for Denis to be. He was pain free at long last and it was nice to see him look better; all his anxiety had gone.

‘It was emotional; I knew I was the only one who would be coming out of the hospice, but we did have some laughs. One memory I have from being there was a day when Denis had asked for a sherry. He was T-total, so it made him choke, but then he started laughing and we all cracked up!

Denis in Mess Dress (Sgt) in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps (now disbanded)

‘We have supported the hospice ever since. The children have done a lot of fundraising, we’ve taken part in many of the events and my son Lee took photos for the Firewalk event in 2019 and at last year’s Starlight Stroll for Bournefree magazine.

‘My sons have also volunteered in different areas of the hospice and before the pandemic, Zoe and I were volunteers at the Donation Centre, sorting through and steaming clothing donations. We also liked to visit the hospice two or three times a week for lunch. I never had to make a Sunday lunch as we would always be there!

Denis and Sheila's daughter Zoe, collecting for St Wilfrid's

‘It’s amazing to see how far the hospice has come. When Denis was ill and I asked one of the doctors whether he was going to die. He turned around and said to me “we don’t like to use the word dying.” Thank god we’ve moved forward!’

We would like to thank Sheila and her family for sharing their story in celebration of St Wilfrid's 40th anniversary, and for all of their support over the years. If you would like to share a hospice memory, please email [email protected] or tag #StWilfridsMemories on social media. 

To show your support during our 40th Anniversary Year, by making a donation or seeing how you can get involved, please visit