Graham on 'Good Morning Sunday with Clare Balding' 

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Executive Director Graham Perolls on Clare Balding's 'Good Morning Sunday'

Executive Director, Graham Perolls CMG, OBE appeared on Clare Balding’s Sunday Best show on 16th July 2017. He talked about the inspiration for setting up the Ellenor Hospice in Dartford and Hospice Casa Sperantei in Romania. His chosen piece of music was Leona Lewis singing Footprints in the Sand.   

CB: A very, very good morning to Graham Perolls who is my guest this morning is the founder and CEO of Hospices of Hope an organisation which he founded in 1992 and which has since grown to become the largest hospice movement in South East Europe.  And he was awarded the CMG award in 2014 by the Duke of Cambridge in 2014- that’s the companion of the Order of St Michael and St George- an order of chivalry for those who give extraordinary service to a foreign country. And Graham it’s just a really interesting story about how this all started?

GP: Well yes it was nothing I planned.   I went to Romania in 1975 that was a bit of a chance holiday I met some people on the streets in the city of Brasov and they became my friends. But it was a long time afterwards that I went back to Romania after the revolution in 89 by which time my father had died and I had become interested in the hospice movement.  I started a hospice in Dartford in Kent but when I went back to Romania after the revolution I saw the terrible conditions in the hospitals I saw a young man dying in terrible pain

CB: what because there was no morphine available?  

GP: No, no morphine.  There was no care at all for people who were terminally ill and I think a seed was planted in my mind on that visit that maybe I could do something.

CB: Was the idea of the hospices was that something that was alien to Romanians – did they not provide palliative care and kindness at the end of people’s lives?   

GP: No, not at all in fact if you were over 70 you weren’t given medical treatment of any sort because you weren’t productive any more.  So in 1990 when I was there after the revolution really there was no care at all for people who were terminally ill people - they were just sent home to die and the relatives had to cope as best they could. 

CB: So you’ve then got to start something that not only requires the building of a place where this can happen you’ve got to people it and you have to change a culture to say that this is a better way to do things?

GP: Exactly.  Yes  - a nurse from our hospice in Dartford was willing to go out to Romania for two years. She taught the first Romanian nurse about palliative care.  We took a doctor from Romania to the UK and trained him so it started in a very, very small way.  But the need was so huge it started growing and at that time particularly people in the UK were very warm towards the situation in Romania  so it was easy to raise money towards that cause.

CB: Really? Well how much did you have to raise?

GP: Well it started off with just a small team but in 1998 we decided to build the first hospice in Brasov and that was a million pound project and we raised all that money in the UK.

CB: Wow and did you give up a career of your own to pursue charity work?

GP: Well I was working in my family business and after my father died I took it over.  I was in the motor trade so nothing to do with medicine but I always had an interest  in medical things and in my younger days I had worked as an assistant nurse when I lived in Sweden so I knew something about how people suffered in the last days of their illness but yes I really came into this without really very much experience but I had had the chance to set up the hospice in Dartford so that was what really what underpinned the training and really equipping the team in the early days.

CB: That is interesting- you have got to have the drive and the belief really to go through with something.  I think loads of us see things whether we are at home or abroad frankly that we think gosh I wish we could help that situation and it bothers you hugely and you wonder about it and then you keep wondering about it and then you gently forget it - not out of any badness but just out of not knowing what one is supposed to do.

GP: I had a second chance really because after my father died I became very interested in hospice but I took over the business and was very busy and so almost forgot about it. But my mother died four years later and it was her death which really gave me the push to do something because I had had the experience of my father dying in a hospice and it was a “good death” if you can call it such. With my mother it was very different and this gave me the push to do something. Thinking back to Romania and seeing the conditions there is just seemed a very natural way I could help that situation

CB: And we will talk about how successful that has become and if the people of Romania have embraced the idea after your choice of music.  My guest this morning is Graham Perolls the founder and CEO of Hospices of Hope.  You’ve chosen a track by Leona Lewis called Footprints in the Sand.  Why?

GP: Well first when we opened a new hospice in Bucharest two years ago my daughter Deborah got to sing this song with the London Community Gospel choir - they came out to do a celebration concert.  But for me there have been times during the journey when I have really felt that God has carried me and I have seen those footprints in the sand.  

CB: let’s have a listen.

Music plays

CB: You said that your daughter came out and sang that with a big choir. In Romania was this?

GP: Yes in Romania yes just after we opened the new hospice in Bucharest in 2014

CB: How involved do the family get?

GP: I am very fortunate I have five children and my children and my wife have been hugely  supportive throughout the twenty five years that I have been working in Romania.

CB: Because presumably you have to spend a lot of time there

GP: I am a bit of a commuter really I am there pretty well every month.

CB: And what is the next - The project that you have just completed and presumably you have got something planned imminently?

GP: Yes we are working at the moment on a new children’s centre for children who are affected by life limiting conditions. We were actually given a beautiful property close to Bucharest - an old manor house which we are currently renovating – it should be finished in October. It will really be the first centre where the families and children affected by these very debilitating conditions can find support. There will be a respite centre so we can take the children in for a week or two weeks to give the parents a break – it’s a really beautiful location – so many of the children never get out of their flats – maybe on the tenth floor without a lift-  it’s going to be absolutely fantastic to have this centre open.

CB: You touched on it leading into the Leona Lewis track about your faith. Just tell me a bit more about that and why you felt so driven to do the work you have done Graham.

GP: My faith has always played a very important part of my life-  since I was 21. Actually when my father died just before that he said that he was disappointed that he would never see his grandchildren and he said that we must all find a purpose in this.  That stayed in my mind and really when I started a hospice I felt it was a calling and I felt it was something that I needed to do.  My faith has sustained me during these years because sometimes it’s been tough - battling with the Romanian authorities in particular- there have lots of setbacks - but I have always felt that God has been there for me and helped me through those difficulties.  

CB: There must be children you have met and indeed some adults that you met that you know that because of what you have built you have changed things for them. How has the local community embraced the idea of hospices?  And indeed the work you are doing now for children with life-limiting illnesses?

GP: It’s such a privilege to be able to care for these adults and children and so as often they have nothing if they don’t have the help from the hospice. So I have met so many courageous people during the years and I have always said it is their courage that really inspires me to carry on.  You just meet some absolutely amazing people and many have lived their lives through the communist era and their faith has been quashed if you like because they haven’t been able to practice it but that seems to have had the opposite effect.  Lots of Romanians now are very hungry for something spiritual in their lives and hospice embraces all those things really we look after the physical side- obviously the pain and other symptoms – but we also care for all the emotional and spiritual parts of people because that’s important too.

CB: So they do they generally speaking have a very strong faith?

GP: Yes many, many people do and it’s something that’s very much requested in the Romanian hospices – people want to talk about their faith - particularly at the end of life.  They have lots of questions and sometimes they feel that maybe the illness is a punishment from God.  It’s a privilege for our chaplains to explain that’s not the case at all but to answer some of their questions and to explore faith with them. 

CB: what do you think Graham is the most satisfying result of everything you have achieved and when your  father gave you that challenge and said do something that leaves a legacy – that means something - that has a purpose - was there a moment or indeed an individual that you have come across that you thought yes ok this is why?

GP: If I had to pick one patient out who really touched my life it was a twenty seven year old young man who I got to know quite well. He was in the hospice several times and we got to know other quite well. He died and the next time I went back to Romania I found a little leather bound book on my desk.  I picked it up, opened it and in it was a picture of him and he’d written in that book “wherever life takes us lets always be friends” and it really touched me that he’d thought of writing that before he’d died and it made me realise it is a real privilege to go on a journey with someone and yes the whole experience has been a great privilege

CB: And what would your message be to those people getting in touch – lots of them who have been in touch – who are doing different things with their time off work – who are volunteering -  but also those who on holiday may come across someone or something who want to help how or what is the best way of helping with that?

GP: Well I think first of all you need to keep your eyes open. If you go to a country where there is lot o f need maybe there is something you can do to help it may not happen immediately but you can keep it in your mind and if that seed grows maybe the vision will develop and you can maybe change a life  or you can change a whole community really.

CB: And you are proof of that – thank you for coming in this morning