Judi Newman: Making precious moments happen in a pandemic

Judi Newman is the new CEO of the St Elizabeth Hospice. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Judi Newman is the new CEO of the St Elizabeth Hospice - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, few could have predicted the devastation that ensued. The cost to life. The cost to business.

For charities, who rely largely on a community of volunteers, and generous public donations, the impact came as a sweeping blow.

But, says Judi Newman, who was named chief executive officer of St Elizabeth Hospice this summer, there was so much light tangled in with the darkness.

Having joined the charity late in 2019, just as coronavirus was taking hold in China, the optimistic, can-do leader says the last two years have brought out the best in people. She’s seen nothing but commitment, tenacity and a drive to care amongst her staff and colleagues.

That’s not to say this period of time hasn’t been without its challenges.

The pandemic still looms large over the nation, with reports of rising Covid cases and R rates being published daily. And Judi says we can’t afford to be complacent.

“I have to say, the Government did provide some support, so that was good.

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“Hospices are in a slightly unusual position, in that they are working in collaboration with hospitals and the NHS. We had that initial funding as a Covid response, but it was one-off funding. To make sure hospices were still here when the pandemic was over.

“Just like the beginning of last year, there are so many unknowns for everyone. We didn’t know if this would last two to three months or beyond. Certainly not over 18 months. We really do recognise, across the charity sector, that so many others have been affected in many different ways. Some charities couldn’t carry on offering all their services. Some have closed. For me, one of the biggest issues is keeping visitors, and staff, safe.”

St Elizabeth Hospice, which provides end-of-life and palliative care, respite, and specialist phone services, has 18 in-patient beds in Ipswich, and further beds at Beccles Hospital – all of which have remained open throughout the pandemic. In fact, says Judi, at one stage an additional six beds were put on in Ipswich ‘just in case’.

Unlike care homes, visitors were still able to access the hospice facilities. And the team did everything they could to make those precious moments happen.

“Clearly people needed to be able to have very special conversations with their loved ones,” Judi explains. “Whereas before we were very open to visitors, actively encouraging them, in the grip of the pandemic that had to be limited to the immediate household, and they had to be booked appointments. We had some very difficult discussions about this, because we have a duty of care to our staff, but everyone acknowledged we wanted to ensure family could see loved ones – even if that meant loads of PPE, and using different entrances. There were lots of changes, but they were vital as they meant those important moments weren’t lost.

“We’re still taking all precautions and we’re a bit more open now, but we’re not back to our pre-pandemic stage. We’re not out of the woods yet. There’s a huge amount of public health education in place about the precautions we can take, but there’s also still a lot of sensitivity in the community.”

Like other organisations, the hospice had to change many of its working practices during lockdown. As well as additional beds, St Elizabeth Hospice set up the Palliative and End of Life Community Hub,

enabling the team to coordinate end-of-life care in the community, so GPs and nurses could access the specialist advice and equipment they needed in one place.

“They could just ring up,” says Judi, “and put together mobile wards in people’s homes to avoid hospital admissions. That’s one way we really felt we could help.

“Our Director of Patient Services Verity Jolly had this vision about four years ago. She knew the model would work, and had been talking to people about trying to get funding. In the end, it became a reality in five days because everybody could immediately see the benefits.

“Lockdown was announced on March 23, and within those few short days the hub was in place, with 70 volunteers helping the service on a rota, delivering equipment back and forth across the community, wherever it was needed.”

One thing that’s crystal clear is the pride Judi has for St Elizabeth Hospice staff – 350 working at the hospice itself, and over 1,500 volunteers, with 70% of care taking place in the community – within people’s homes.

“Staff had to be really careful and had to put their own fears and concerns aside. They were brilliant. They did everything they could. Lots of volunteers needed to shield, but others wanted to help. And we had staff members from elsewhere in the hospice who couldn’t do their normal role, for example in fundraising, but wanted to use their skills to support us elsewhere.

“It was inspirational. And we didn’t take it for granted...ever.”

Judi, 50, has enjoyed a long, varied career in the charity sector – and says people, and stories are at the core of everything she does.

Born in Uxbridge, London, the daughter of an RAF musician, she was brought up in Lincolnshire, attending King’s College London (reading Religious Studies , before finding herself, unexpectedly, working in the charity world.

“I didn’t know I was going to have a career in charity,” Judi says, “but I was always interested in it. Actually, I spent my first £5 on an Amnesty membership!”

Newly graduated, a friend pointed out a small ad in the Oxford Times. Oxfam was looking for a secretary at its headquarters.

“And that immediately appealed to me as being interesting. It was 1993, so within the year the Rwandan genocide had taken place and at Oxfam it was all hands to the deck.

“There was this extraordinary response to that. And, being new to the sector, I just got thrown in, and did whatever it took to keep up with the enormous need for humanitarian support.

“The next four-and-a-half years was a deep dive into every aspect of fundraising. I gained skills in all sorts of teams. It really was like a crash course in some of the most active fundraising of that time. I got the bug.”

The bug that really bit Judi, was working directly with trusts and major donors. She loved diving into the heart of an issue, and explaining the intricacies to people who could make a genuine difference.

“This was the sort of work you just can’t easily get across on a leaflet or postcard. I liked building relationships with people, so they felt connected. And then my work became about philanthropy and advice – that's the behind-the-scenes world of fundraising.”

Judi says philanthropy is usually, by nature, issues-based. Those handing over large sums, quite rightly, want to understand the sector, the challenges, the pressures. They want to feel they can be a force for change. Make a true impact.

Judi spent time working with Oxfam in southern Africa, raising money “in the south, to spend in the south”, had two years at Royal Mail on a graduate training programme to up her management skills, and took time out from her career, moving with husband Andrew (who she met on a gap year aged 19), to live in the Czech Republic and Holland, welcoming Samuel, 12, and Zoe, 18, into the world.

Judi and her son Samuel

Judi and her son Samuel - Credit: Contributed

Judi Newman with her daughter Zoe

Judi Newman with her daughter Zoe - Credit: Contributed

Judi and Andrew returned to the UK to bring up their children, with Judi taking a role at Research Autism in London – a leading, small charity that she says had an “amazing” committee, bringing together leading scientists from across the UK.

Then came a move to Suffolk in 2007, where Judi became development director at the Suffolk Community Foundation.

“I really started to see every corner of Suffolk, and the community, and this web of grassroots activity,” she recalls fondly. “My role was to work with individuals and companies and major donors, and my favourite thing was taking them out for the day, to visit various organisations they’d never heard of before.

“At the time, around 2008 to 2014, the Rural Coffee Caravan had just started. It was wonderful to see the start of that and other home grown solutions to very local issues. And also a lot of people were very interested to meet Emma Ratzer at the Access Community Trust in Lowestoft.

Judi and Andrew Newman

Judi and Andrew Newman - Credit: Contributed

“They had no idea some of the challenges an organisation like that was facing.

“Then there was Fresh Start, New Beginnings. I took a lot of people out to see them, to really understand the challenges they were facing. Some of these charities, you see, deal with issues you don’t necessarily think of every day, but which have huge implications. For example, if those children didn’t receive counselling from Fresh Start, New Beginnings, the impact on society could be far greater up the line.”

Judi says she took visitors to projects on their doorsteps that were often hard-hitting.

“These were people who wanted to support their community. That could take a few conversations, or a few years. We’d talk about issues they were interested in, and cause and effect. So someone might be interested in homelessness...but what are the reasons why people are homeless? They might be interested in food banks. We’d spend an afternoon at a food bank and realise the complexity of why they’re being used.

“That’s where, I think, philanthropy can be so interesting. Peeling back the layers of the onion to see where you can make the most difference.”

Is there much generosity in Suffolk?

“Lots - but Suffolk is very quiet about its philanthropic endeavours. I used to speak to colleagues in Essex or Norfolk and they had many more supporters willing to share their stories to inspire others, whereas we are a private bunch in Suffolk aren’t we? And that’s absolutely fine.”

After leaving Suffolk Community Foundation, Judi worked alongside her husband within his business, but ultimately ended up with so much charity consultancy work, she decided to found Relish alongside Emma Lloyd (who still operates the business today).

“I did that for some time and actually started talking to St Elizabeth Hospice on a consultancy basis. But when a job for a development director became available, I applied.

“I loved having the opportunity to dive into one organisation again, coming back to understanding the issues and the stories.”

Judi didn’t, she admits, know much about hospices at first. “But I was fascinated by how we, as a choice, as a community, want to have the hospice movement. We all collectively want it, and we collectively make it happen, which is an extraordinary bit of community action.”

Having joined in December 2019, by the time the end of March 2020 came around, all the best laid plans Judi had for the hospice needed to be set aside to deal with Covid.

“It sounds strange, but really it was a privilege to be able to see the way everyone responded to the pandemic. I saw calm professionalism. I saw there was no sense of panic – I think maybe clinical and medical professionals are used to stress. Obviously this was a very unusual time for them as no one had seen anything like it before, but they still came at the challenge with the utmost passion. Everyone rolled their sleeves up and got cracking.”

Judi took the role as CEO in May, and is now looking forward to driving on projects and ideas she had when she first joined St Elizabeth Hospice.

One of these projects and focal points is explaining to the public what a hospice is, what it’s for, and what it does, because “there’s a lot of misconception.”

Judi says it all goes back to storytelling. “We have a fantastic story to share, and if people knew more about that story, they’d find it quite inspirational.”

As an example Judi reveals the advice line, One Call, took 30,000 calls last year.

“It’s very much a free service, 24/7, that anyone can call if they, or someone in their family, has a progressive or life-limiting illness and they need support. That message has to go out to every corner of the community. That’s one of my missions.

“I want to encourage people to look out for the breadth of what hospice does, and to be more acutely aware of how far they go.”

The charity’s bereavement service, LivingGrief, is a case in point.

“We’re experiencing a large increase in demand for that service, and I would encourage people to use it. Anyone can access it. You don’t need to have had a touchpoint with the hospice.

“We need to be better at talking about grief, so the hospice is trying to help people find the words to do that.

“We can offer so much support. That’s why we’re here. We’re all about giving people the support they need, when they need it the most.”

I am reading

Paul Auster’s 4321. Reading is one of my great pleasures. I’m in a book club that started when our children were in reception and it’s very special to me. It reminded me of how much I loved reading, even when I was really busy. Paul Auster is an American author, famous for the New York trilogy. I

love it when a novel has a different construct. This one is the same story told four times – with a Sliding Door moment.

I am watching

I’ve been rewatching Schitt’s Creek. During lockdown that really was my go-to happy place. It’s the best tonic.

I am listening to

The Changemakers podcast by Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett. He interviews people who have founded charities, and I listen to that in my car. It’s absolutely fascinating to hear from people from all over the country, of all different ages – all passionate about making a difference. I’m also listening to an audio book on long journeys – American Dirt.

Contact

Stelizabethhospice.org.uk

One Call (free from a BT landline and available 24/7) 0800 567 0111

LivingGrief support line (Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm) 0300 303 5196

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