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Ellesmere Port mums join fight to save charity cafe at Countess of Chester Hospital

Two women and their families drew strength from charity after losing first born children

 

Ann-Marie McGarry with her children George and Oscar and close friend Annmarie Robertswood in the Comfort Zone shop run by Chester Childbirth Appeal.

Two mums who became close friends after losing their first born babies are fighting to save a charity cafe at the Countess of Chester Hospital that has provided them with solace over the years.

Ann-Marie McGarry and Annmarie Robertswood, both 40, lost their sons at the hospital in 2004.

Mrs McGarry and husband Alan had Jackson for 28 days. Mrs Robertswood and husband Martin lost their Jamie on the day he was born.

Both have gone on to have healthy children born at the Countess.

The Comfort Zone shop and cafe within the Countess of Chester Hospital which raises money for the Chester Childbirth Appeal to provide improvements to the hospital environment for patients and visitors.

 

By chance the two women met at the Baby Memorial Garden at Blacon Crematorium after their baby boys were laid to rest next to each other. The garden was the brain-child of the Chester Childbirth Appeal which is currently facing a huge challenge.

That’s because hospital chief executive Tony Chambers wants to close the Comfort Zone shop and cafe which has not only raised funds for the charity over the past 16 years but has also provided a focus and solace for grieving families at the time of their loss and into the future.

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Mr Chambers wants the area taken back within the in-house catering department sparking a petition signed by nearly 3,000 people.

Talking about the Baby Garden provided by the charity, Ann-Marie McGarry, from Stanney Oaks, Ellesmere Port, said: “When our little boy passed away – we were lucky to have him for a month – and we didn’t know how poorly he was. When I was told, my instinct was ‘where is he going to go?’, ‘I don’t want him in some horrible place’.”

The Women and Children’s Building at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

 

But Ann-Marie, who now has sons George, 11, and Oscar, eight, said a nurse clinician told her about the Baby Garden.

“It was the darkest time but to know he had somewhere to go – we went there that day to see it,” she explained. “It was all so pretty and all lit up and there were flowers and they were all a similar age.”

Talking about the cafe which funds such initiatives, she said: “If this is just a normal cafe it will be quite depressing, I think. The food is quite nice and the ladies come and have a chat if you’re sitting on your own and it looks like you want to have a chat. That would not happen if it was something different.”

Chester hospital charity shop and cafe threatened with closure

 

Her friend Annmarie Robertswood, from Whitby, Ellesmere Port, who has a 10-year-old son Lucas, says losing the cafe is not just about losing a funding source.

She explained: “To take this away doesn’t just take away a cafe. It takes away everything else that goes with the charity. I feel if you lose this, you lose the identity of the charity.”

Annmarie Robertswood, friend Ann-Marie McGarry with her children Oscar and George in the Comfort Zone cafe run by Chester Childbirth Appeal.

Annmarie said the Childbirth Appeal had provided facilities over and above what the NHS would fund like the Snowdrop Room where a family’s lost baby can be tended and the private family room for grieving loved ones.

“Women were having children and having to go upstairs to the labour ward without their child,” she said. “Many years ago women didn’t get to spend time with their baby just after they died.”

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Annmarie said the charity had helped give ‘meaning’ to the short lives of their babies and not only looked after the mothers but provided a support and a focus for partners as well as ‘bringing families together’.

Her husband Martin and his colleague took part in the Great North Run to raise funds for the Childbirth Appeal. The service had also lent comfort during her subsequent successful pregnancy given the fear ‘Is it going to happen again?’.

Pat Daniels MBE, founder of the Chester Childbirth Appeal.(Image: Ian Cooper )

 

Both women have high praise for charity founder and former midwife-tutor Pat Daniels MBE describing her as ‘an inspiration’ and ‘a firecracker of a lady’ because of her boundless energy.

Ann-Marie McGarry, who runs her own renewables business, has heard rumours surrounding a long-term plan to replace the Countess with a super hospital on a new site and an electronic tracking system to reduce the length of stay per patient to free up more bed space. She wonders if the loss of the cafe is ‘a slippery slope’.

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She said: “The National Health Service was set up so people were humanised. If you look at what it was like beforehand it was just horrific. I worry the hospital is in danger of losing its soul.”

The Comfort Zone was supposed to close next Tuesday but their lawyers have written to hospital managers saying this won’t be happening.

Chief executive of the Countess of Chester Hospital Tony Chambers

 

Chief executive Mr Chambers said in his recent blog that equivalent funds generated by the shop will be re-invested in Women and Children’s services in keeping with the principles of Chester Childbirth Appeal.

He wrote: “And so as I reflect on what I know, for me it is that patients and staff will not notice any difference. People will still be able to get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat in our Women and Children’s Building. Chester Childbirth Appeal will continue to have fundraising offices on our site. Pat Daniels will always be a familiar and welcome face in and around The Countess.

“This decision was not meant to cause upset. I will continue to listen to the feedback, and will be having further meetings with Chester Childbirth Appeal to find a way forward.”

 

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