West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History




Prince of Wales Visit to the Castleford Support Group
Prince of Wales Visit in October 1985

This is the second part of the story of the history The Prince of Wales Hospice. This article covers the story behind the support groups which were set up in 1983 to raise funding for the construction of the hospice.

There were originally thirteen support groups in the local area. These groups were based in Castleford, Knottingley, Hemsworth, Normanton, Featherstone, Ferrybridge, South Elmsall, Ackworth, Upton and South Milford, with three support groups in Pontefract itself.

The aims of the support groups were to raise new income for the hospice, to advocate for the work of the hospice and to encourage others to raise funds. Each support group was made up of people from the particular area who had joined together with these common aims.

The groups acted independently of each other, although representatives from each group met monthly at Pontefract Hospital to discuss groups’ activities in the past month, future plans and any problems that had been encountered.

Events organised by the groups to raise funds included dancing, concerts, fun runs and a car boot sale in Tesco’s car park!

It had been identified that The Five Towns Plus Hospice Fund would have to raise £500,000 to open the hospice and pay for initial running costs. In order to help reach this target, it was decided there should be a large event, a half-marathon at Pontefract Park in May 1985. In addition to the run, each support group had a stall at the event with a variety of second-hand goods, homemade items and baking donated for sale to raise extra funds.

The run organisers invited national celebrity and keen runner, Sir Jimmy Saville, to take part in the event, as he had been a Bevan boy in the area. He readily accepted and the event proved to be highly successful.

After participating in the half marathon, Jimmy telephoned the Support Group Co-ordinator, Gretta Sharkey, and announced that he had organised someone very important to help the hospice with their fundraising and that this special person wanted to meet the support groups. This mysterious person was, of course, The Prince of Wales. However, because of security issues, his identity had to be kept a secret, even to the support groups, until he actually arrived!

The Prince made his visit in October 1985, met with each support group and agreed to help them in their goal to raise the capital they needed. This included hosting a charity polo match for the hospice every year.

The half-marathon event and the success of the clothing stalls also offered another opportunity to the hospice – to have a regular market stall. The first "Buttercross New-to-You" sale took place in November 1986 and continued on the last Friday of every month.

New to You stall in Pontefract Buttercross
The 'New to You' stall in Pontefract Buttercross

These sales proved to be very popular and encouraged more members of the general public to become supporters of the hospice. The stall ran until May 1989 and raised a total of £20,000 towards the building costs. Today, the sales continue at the hospice’s shops that can be found in the surrounding towns.

In the meantime, the support groups also hosted another event, which was to become something of a tradition. The first fundraising garden party was hosted by supporter John Holmes, and though the venue later moved to the hospice grounds, the garden party continues to be an important fundraiser for the hospice today, eighteen years later.

Pontefract Hospice Garden Party in 1988
Garden Party July 1988

One of the support groups’ biggest contributions was to pay the salary and expenses of the Hospice Fund Sister, Lesley Etherington. Along with her husband Peter, Lesley had been a founder member of the Knottingley Support Group. She was appointed to her official post in April 1985.

Lesley’s role involved promoting further fund-raising and directly caring for people with terminal illnesses in the local area, fulfilling the hospice’s objective while fundraising continued and building work began, starting with the cutting of the sod in 1988.

Pontefract Hospice digging the first sod in 1988
Digging the first sod in 1988

It was because of the tireless work of the support groups that the dream of the hospice became a reality. This contribution was recognised when the new hospice was opened by naming a room after each of the support groups.

Written and compiled by Oliver Walker 
With contributions from Laura Bennett, Phyl Hague and Gretta Sharkey.

Other articles about the Pontefract Hospice by Oliver Walker

Prince of Wales Hospice in Pontefract Part One - Laying the Foundations 
Prince of Wales Hospice in Pontefract Part Three - Moments in History
Prince of Wales Hospice in Pontefract Part Four - Flower Funds and Gardens


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