“It was a really nice day, the first proper summer day. We were in the hospital’s Lambeth Water Garden. It was such a haven. You would not believe you were in the middle of a huge hospital. That’s very much what we want to convey. How amazing and soothing green spaces are.” Estelle Le Galliot, Macmillan health and wellbeing coordinator at St George’s hospital reflects on the first session of George’s Green Club, the new support group for people living with and beyond cancer and their loved ones.
The group meets monthly to explore the remarkable biodiversity to be found in St George’s grounds; learn some photography tips and tricks; enjoy a dose of nature and much more besides.
It was devised by Estelle along with volunteer Jan Rose, who is a member of St George’s cancer patient forum Voice, and the hospital’s head gardener John Greco.
The wonderful effect of being in a garden, having a doughnut and a cup of tea and listening to John talk about his input to the hospital – it was extraordinary.”
Another benefit is the chance to get support from others with a shared experience of cancer, as Jan explains. “When you have cancer, you learn that everyone sitting round that table is alike so it’s a very positive thing. We all felt that with the Green Club; the wonderful effect of being in a garden, having a doughnut and a cup of tea and listening to John talk about his input to the hospital – it was extraordinary, the hour and a half went by so quickly.”
The club supports St George’s Green Plan, published in 2022, and its aim of engaging patients with the flora and fauna of the hospital grounds, adding a new and therapeutic dimension to the clinical setting. During the first session, John talked about the surprising amount of birdlife on the site, including the herons from the River Wandle that are regular visitors.
The photography element plays on Jan’s extensive experience of the craft from a long career in advertising. She explained: “You don’t have to be a famous photographer like David Bailey. The idea is that everybody’s got a smartphone and the gardens are really beautiful. You just need good light and the ability to edit. At the end of the year, we’ll have an exhibition.”
We need to make that hour and a half as pleasurable as we can, that’s at the heart of it really.”
Each month’s meet up will have an extra element. In June, hospital receptionist Colin Davis will talk about the history of St George’s – from its origins at Hyde Park Corner to the evolution of the Tooting site. The group will be joined by Ray the cockerpoo and other dogs that visit the hospital from the charity Pets as Therapy.
Future events include a session on the power of books to boost wellbeing with the charity The Reader and afternoon tea on the lawn. The emphasis will always be on fun, says Estelle. “We need to make that hour and a half as pleasurable as we can, that’s at the heart of it really.”
George’s Green Club complements many other activities co-created by Estelle with colleagues, patients and volunteers as part of her remit of supporting people affected by cancer, whether by boosting mental wellbeing, signposting to services, tackling loneliness or helping address money worries.
She explained: “I work closely with the lead cancer nurse for personalised care at Macmillan’s Information and Support Centre to support patients in all aspects of life. We run workshops to help patients understand the impact of cancer – on fatigue, for example – to equip them with a better understanding of what’s going on.
“We do pampering workshops too with the charity Look Good Feel Better. It’s a group of women getting valuable tips about skincare, hair loss, putting makeup. The whole afternoon is wonderful. Women arrive feeling shy but within half an hour there’s giggling, the wigs are put on the side, there’s an exchange of numbers and they are saying, ‘I haven’t felt like this in a long time’.”
Two consultants who work here saved my life. I do believe very strongly that having had cancer you can relate so much more to other patients.”
Jan is a member of Voice, a group of 10 patients who meet the cancer team monthly. “They support us in so many ways,” says Estelle. “They are at the core of what we do; whatever improvements we make or if we are reviewing a service. The group is instrumental in making sure we are always patient centred.”
For Jan, there were very personal reasons to get involved. “In 2019 I got pretty ill. I had breast cancer,” she says. “Two consultants who work here saved my life. I do believe very strongly that having had cancer you can relate so much more to other patients. You have an awareness – that people are frightened and need reassurance. I can’t tell you how much I love being here. I’ve found my space in life.”
George’s Green Club meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month between 2pm and 3.30pm and is open to anyone affected by cancer. The next event is Wednesday 28 June. To book, email Estelle [email protected].