Chris Gatfield Registered Manager and Founder of DoveIf you are a regular supporter of Dove Cottage Day Hospice, you probably know all about the services we offer and the people we care for, but do you know how it all started? by Chris Gatfield, Registered Manager and Founder of Dove.

Well, back in 1994 I was working as a volunteer in another hospice and this may sound strange, but I really felt God was telling me to start a hospice in the area where I lived in the Vale of Belvoir. The previous year I’d had a wonderful Christian conversion experience which had changed my life completely and filled me with a deep compassion for people less fortunate than myself.

hospice plan is launchedBut where do you start – how do you begin to turn a vision into a reality. I recruited the support of some very dear friends and after doing a lot of praying and a lot of homework, getting advice from local healthcare professionals, solicitors, and potential funders, we felt confident enough to start looking for some premises. The only problem being we had no money. We needed someone to give us a building but who was going to do that? Someone suggested I go and speak to a Mr Ian Jesson, the trustee of a local gospel trust who owned several properties in the area to see if they could help.

I remember so clearly my very nervously going along to meet this gentleman and explaining to him what I wanted to do and asking him if he by any chance had a building to spare! To my horror his initial response was to roar with laughter – probably at my audacity. To my relief, once he had finished laughing at me, he told me to come and meet him again the following week when he showed me a rather dilapidated, unused building that needed a huge amount of work done to it. I must admit my heart rather sank.

Although it was a generous offer, where would we get the money from to do it up? I asked for some time to think about it and during the following week, amazingly I felt God spoke to me through a book I was reading and He gave me these following words:

Concerning the finances of this venture, they will come and they will come in large and small amounts. You shall have no lack and you must not skimp in anything that you do but shall have the best for me, says the Lord. I will require the best. The best carpets, the best chairs and curtains and all you see and behold with your eyes. And you shall not tempt the Lord your God by saying ‘we can’t afford it’. I will provide for my house and there shall be meat and drink and this shall be honour. People shall walk in and open their eyes and say such beauty, such glory, such things – surely the Lord has done great things.

dove cottage history building work before

Wow. Even after all these years it makes me tingle when I read those words again because God has so honoured everything he said to me back then.

Full of faith, I returned to my kind benefactor and told him we’d like to go ahead. He in return told me he’d also been thinking things over and the Trust not only offered us the building rent free on a 99 year lease, but also our first ever financial donation, £20,000 to get us started. How exciting was this – We were off.

I haven’t got time to tell you how amazing the next few months proved. Yes, they were hard work but they were also the most faith-building, inspiring times imaginable. The local community were brilliant. Offers came in from all different directions. Offers of money, time, manpower, things like, doors, windows, carpets, curtains – you name it everything we needed arrived. Answered prayer abounded. I think one of my favourite stories is my kitchen one. The building was gradually taking shape and came the time to install the kitchen. The builder rang me up to ask whether I had ordered it yet. At that time we had absolutely no money in the bank to pay for one. I remember saying to him ‘even if l go and buy the cheapest one out it will still cost about £1,000. ‘Where has your faith gone’ was the reply. The next day, as I pondered my problem, I had a phone call from a local fund-raising group that were looking to donate some money to charity. ‘Was there anything we needed they asked’. I was reluctant to admit we needed a kitchen when they may have been thinking more in the terms of a kettle! ‘How much do you usually manage to raise’ I asked. Yes, you’ve guessed the answer – £1,000 was the reply.

Once again our prayers had been answered – we had the money for our kitchen. I have a whole suitcase full of stories like that – too many to share with you now, but by the end of 1996 we were ready – we had a beautiful building, fully furnished, we had secured funding to employ two nurses, we had trained a posse of willing volunteers, this was it, we’d made it, we were ready to open.

To start with we only opened two days a week, taking up to 8 people each day, and then it was 3 days and eventually 4. By 1999 we were desperately running out of space. More people wanted to come than we had room for and we had a new dilemma on our hands – we needed to add a major extension to Dove Cottage to accommodate our growing needs. Plans were drawn up. This time we needed £100,000 to make our dreams come true. Where was the money going to come from this time?

dove cottage history building workImagine my joy when the editor of a local newspaper rang me to ask whether I would like them to launch an appeal on our behalf. Would I!

Within 6 months the money had been raised and the builders once again moved in. By March 2000 we had the most wonderful building imaginable – a new lounge, a luxurious bathroom, a bigger kitchen, various rest rooms, even a hairdressing salon – the whole thing was perfect. And to top it all we had the privilege of being officially opened by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester in May of that year. From such humble beginnings, who could ever have imagined such a day.

Since then we have gone from strength to strength. Hundreds of people have been through our doors over the years and we now care for over 70 people and their families each week. God has certainly been faithful to us. He has always provided for us as he promised back in 1995. He has never let us down. Nowadays it costs about £400,000 each year to offer our services, all of which are provided completely free of charge to our guests.  To meet these ever increasing financial costs, in 2009 we opened our very popular tearoom and charity shop situated just by the Grantham Canal.  What an exciting adventure that was, we hadn’t a clue what we were doing but all worked out well and it is so well supported, I think it gives a great deal of pleasure to many people.  Following on from this success, we have opened a further five charity shops over the years, all bringing in much needed income to the hospice. 

In 2016 we were excited to repeat the whole process of opening a hospice, when we launched a satellite unit in Rutland to provide local services for the people there.  This came about through the generosity of a gentleman leaving us a substantial legacy.  How very kind people are.  We really wanted to use this money wisely, to help as many more people as we could.  Our Rutland unit is open two days a week and although small, is perfectly formed, caring for up to 20 people each week.

dove cottage history exteriorAlthough every year is a bit of a struggle to keep the money coming in during these uncertain economic times, we still believe that while God wants Dove Cottage to carry out this work, He will provide just as he promised all those years ago. People do walk in and say how beautiful and peaceful it is and what a wonderful atmosphere of love is evident. Yes, surely God has done great things. I’m just so grateful to Him for choosing me to be involved with His vision for Dove Cottage. It has been a privilege and an honour and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. And what about all of our guests – they just love coming. I know from experience how much Dove Cottage means to so many people. In fact I would go so far as to say that it has been a real life changing experience for some. People so often come to us very reluctantly – depressed, frightened, with little meaning left to their lives. Time and time again I witness how tender, unconditional loving care can transform a person’s life. I have seen people find peace again in their lives, I have seen people return to a faith they might have lost years ago, I have seen people’s faith in human nature restored, I have seen families reconciled. I have seen people’s self-worth and confidence return. Yes – they all just love coming – to them it’s like being part of a big, loving, and supportive family. A place where very special friendships are made, a place where they can just be themselves.

And here we are, getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary and with my retirement looming in the next few years. Would I do it all again? Yes, a million times over. We have built such a lovely team of staff, volunteers and supporters and I know Dove Cottage will be in very safe hands when it is time for me to pass on the baton. When Covid struck in March 2020 and we had to send everyone home and close our doors, I must admit I thought… ‘Is this the end? Will we ever open again? How will we manage with no income?  No shops.  No fundraising events.’  What a very sad way for Dove Cottage to end!

But here we are, up and running again and in better shape than ever. God obviously still wanted Dove Cottage here for more years to come and the vision keeps growing as well. Dementia care is so much in my heart. We hear of so many families struggling with this very cruel disease and would so like to help them more. We are offering some limited services but we’re eager to do more. I don’t know how or when but when God places things on your heart, you just have to trust that once again the right people, the money, the resources, will come along – just as they did in the early days.

If you belong to a group that would like to hear more about this story, do give me a ring – I’d be delighted to come and share it with you.

I would just be sitting at home watching TV or reading.