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Handover at Bury St Edmunds St Nicholas Hospice Care completes a circle for Linda McEnhill and Barbara Gale

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A new job was the last thing on Linda McEnhill’s mind when she chanced on an advert for a new CEO at the Suffolk hospice where she used to work.

But something made her check it out and when she opened the recruitment pack and saw her own face looking back at her from a photo collage, her mind was made up.

She applied and, as of last week, Linda is leading the team at St Nicholas Hospice Care, replacing Barbara Gale, who is retiring.

Linda McEnhill is St Nicholas Hospice Care’s new chief executive
Linda McEnhill is St Nicholas Hospice Care’s new chief executive

Serendipity is how she describes the way things fell into place for her return to the Bury St Edmunds-based hospice where she was family support manager for five years.

For her and Barbara, life has come full circle. Back in 2005 their time at ‘St Nic’s’ overlapped by just a few weeks.

Linda has moved from Ardgowan Hospice, at Greenock, in Scotland, where she has been chief executive for four years.

Barbara Gale has retired as CEO of St Nicholas Hospice Care
Barbara Gale has retired as CEO of St Nicholas Hospice Care

It will mean going back – at least for a while – to long distance commutes. But that doesn’t worry her.

She and her husband Peter, married for 41 years, are no strangers to working hundreds of miles apart. Until recently he was a church minister in Rome while she was in Scotland.

Linda was born in Glasgow. “I had a very ordinary childhood, and my husband and I grew up just streets apart,” she said.

She worked in banking and at the Scottish stock exchange. He became a surveyor.

It feels like I’m coming back to pay back. It’s a very good opportunity to use all the different experiences I’ve had.

Then came a life-changing decision. They moved to St Andrews with their children Jennifer and Peter to study as mature students at the university – taking part-time jobs to help pay the bills.

Peter did theology. Linda took theology and psychology before going back to an early ambition to be a social worker and doing a further degree.

“When I began studying our children were aged two and four. It was incredibly hard work, but also very enriching,” she said. “St Andrews was a lovely place to bring up a family.

“I was the first person in my family to go to university. We both considered it a huge privilege.”

Her first job after training was principal social worker at a hospice in Glasgow. “I fell in love with palliative and hospice care. It’s a role where you use every part of yourself to get alongside people at that time in their lives.

“I had some amazing leaders around me, and that set a track on which I’ve spent my whole career working in some kind of end of life and bereavement care.”

The family moved to Cambridge when Peter got a job training ordinands at the city’s Westminster Theological College. Linda became a Macmillan social worker at Charing Cross Hospital in London.

She also spent time as a bereavement consultant for people with learning disabilities.

Palliative care and finding the best ways to break bad news to people who could find it difficult to understand has also been a lifelong mission and brought her a prestigious award in 2003.

She was then asked to apply for the role of head of family support at St Nicholas, which marked her move from practitioner to manager.

“The CEO was Bob Jones who again was a great person to learn from and very supportive. I learned so much from my peers and senior management team.

“By the time I got to St Nic’s, I and a colleague had started a small organisation – the Palliative Care for People with Learning Disabilities Network, which has since become a charity.

“When I left they set up the Linda McEnhill Award which is still presented every year.”

While in Bury she received the first Hambro Macmillan Associate Fellowship for her work with the network which she chaired for 10 years.

“It was presented by Prince Charles at a reception at the Reform Club. It was a completely surreal but lovely experience. When I got the award I got a little pot of money and went off to do some research on learning disabilities.”

She went on to be a lecturer, help set up a Macmillan information network, and work for Hospice UK, leading a programme to ensure services were open to everybody.

Peter’s return to church ministry meant a move back to Scotland. Linda became head of family support at the Princess of Wales Hospice, in Glasgow, came back south for a time to St Frances Hospice, in Berkhamstead, then moved to Ardgowan in 2018.

They still have their home in Cambridge which is rented out. And with Peter now working in church administration in Scotland, her move will mean a return to long-distance commuting.

Linda is also a hypnotherapist.

“Working full time means I don’t get much time to do it but it’s a very useful tool to support people,” she said.

Off duty, she loves reading, and spending time with her husband, children, friends, and ‘gorgeous’ dog Mungo, a Dalmatian named after the patron saint of Glasgow.

“I left St Nic’s on June 15, 2005. June 16 was my first day out of the job – and June 16, 2021, was the day I was appointed as CEO,” she said.

“It was all very strange. I’m not someone much given to fanciful thoughts, but this does all seem serendipitous.

“It’s an exciting opportunity. A lot of people have asked why return, because it’s often said ‘don’t go back’ – and normally I wouldn’t.

“But my experience of being head of family support was my first real management job and I learned a lot. Of course I made some bloopers, as you do, but it was incredibly rewarding.

“It feels like I’m coming back to pay back. It’s a very good opportunity to use all the different experiences I’ve had.”

She said Barbara’s departure would leave big shoes to fill. Many things are different from when she left. “The idea has been to change rather than try to shore up an old model while the world about us has changed. But a lot is the same, providing excellent end of life care for people where they need it, when they need it.

“The strategy Barbara has created is always strive for something better. She has been an amazing leader inside St Nic’s and beyond it.”

Barbara Gale at this year's Girls Night Out. Picture: Mecha Morton
Barbara Gale at this year's Girls Night Out. Picture: Mecha Morton

Dr Barbara Gale’s work as CEO at St Nicholas Hospice Care was recognised with an MBE in 2019 – the same year she achieved a PhD in palliative care.

As she prepared to step down from the role, she spoke of the inspiration that spurred her to constantly improve the help they offer people facing death and bereavement.

“Our founder, Canon Richard Norburn, was such an inspiration for me and I have tried to follow his vision. His voice has been at my shoulder saying we must develop and change and reach more people.

“The strategy I and the trustees have developed over the years of working more in the community, helping people to be better prepared to deal with death and grief – that was his idea. People want to know how to support each other and how to be better prepared.”

Barbara’s departure will free her to spend more time with her family and pursue interests that include wild swimming.

“It’s over 40 years since I qualified as a nurse, so this is quite an end of a chapter for me,” she said.

“Like for many other people it has been a tough couple of years, particularly with Covid, and has made a lot of us think about work-life balance.

“My first grandchild was born last year, and having done 16 years I felt I would like to hand over the baton and spend more time with my family. My son and daughter both live locally.”

Her time as CEO has been marked by achievements including setting up two award-winning volunteer schemes.

Nicky’s Way, which offers bereavement support for young people, and Hospice Neighbours, where volunteers support patients in the community, both won Queen’s Awards for Voluntary Service.

Barbara Gale with her MBE
Barbara Gale with her MBE

On a personal level, 2019 was a momentous year which saw Barbara awarded an MBE for her work, and complete a PhD in palliative care.

She has always been keen to stress that hospice is more a behaviour than a building.

“For me the focus is that of supporting people and their families in the community where they need to be. It means being there for people, listening to them, and helping them make the most of their time.

“The hospice is such an amazing organisation, with wonderful staff and volunteers. Another highlight is the regard in which it is held by the community.”

The hugely popular Girls’ Night Out fund-raising walk is another innovation that began while she was CEO.

“The first year just a few people came to walk, and at its height there were over 2,000 people walking. It’s such an amazing sight, all those women walking, the community support, the marshalls.”

Barbara joined St Nicholas in 2005 as clinical services director and two years later became CEO.

“As a nurse all those years ago I never thought that was what I would end up doing. But I did know I wanted to improve services for people coming to end of life. It has always been my passion.”

Previously, she spent 10 years at the Arthur Rank Hospice near Cambridge where her roles included specialist community nurse, family therapist and heading the education team, and deputy matron.

“I thought family therapy was going to be my role, but I found I really enjoyed management.

“I have been the leader at St Nicholas Hospice Care but it’s the whole team that delivers the service to the community.

“There are the clinical team who deliver compassionate care, the fund-raising team, and the people behind the scenes like finance, HR, marketing, admin, cleaning, catering, and our amazing volunteers – 600 in all.

“When Hospice Neighbours started more than 10 years ago not many hospices had that kind of volunteers. Lots of others have since adopted something similar.”

Life in the future looks busy for her in a different way.

“I have all these hobbies and things I have wanted to do over years that I will now have time to do. I’m a big fan of Nordic walking, I love being outside. In October I was in the Lake District wild swimming in Lake Buttermere without a wet suit. The water temperature was 12 degrees. It was wonderful.

“But I will still keep my passion for the work, maybe some writing and teaching.

“The hospice is very dear to my heart so I will keep up a connection, but I will give them space.

“I’m sure I will walk the Girls’ Night Out, and now I’ll be able to just enjoy it,” she added.