After 26 years, our longest serving director has stood down.
Norma Ross held the role of director of Income Generation since the mid-1990s and in that time has helped to raise an incredible £150 million for us.
But now the proud Scot, who lives in Gnosall, Staffordshire, has stepped down from her role and handed over the baton to the next generation of fundraisers.
Over the years, Norma has become one of the best known – and most respected – faces on the Midland’s charity circuit.
Originally from Scotland, Norma grew up in Dollar, Clackmannanshire, later moving to Stirling.
Her background was in sales and marketing and before she became involved in charity work, she sold specialist yarns such as mohair and alpaca wool to firms such as the knitwear company Pringle.
“The skills required are very similar in that you have got to understand what is unique about your charity or product and why people would want to support or buy it,” she said.
“I went into sales and marketing more or less straight from college but when the job came up at Cancer Research, I thought it sounded really interesting because it involved working to help others.”
Her knowledge and personality have made her a favourite with organisations and businesses who have been keen to support the hospice and her role was to oversee the charity’s fundraising activities which include the lottery and its network of shops, which now total 29 in Shropshire and Mid Wales.
Her proudest moments of her career have been seeing the hospice flourish, grow, and become not only a ward-based organisation but one which reaches out into the community.
“Severn Hospice is now a complex organisation – it’s more than the bedded unit it was when I joined all those years ago,” she said. “We were the first hospice to receive funding from the National Lottery and that was the start of the community side of it. We had two community nurses, Garry Kirlew and Jean Harris and we were able to take our care into people’s homes offering palliative care. That became Hospice at Home and has made an enormous difference in the number of patients we can support.”
Since Norma began working for us, we have opened a second site at Telford and in 2021 the new community services building at Bicton, Shrewsbury opened – bringing together its Hospice at Home nurses and community outreach team on to one site. There is also a satellite site at Newtown in Powys.
She is no stranger to challenging work – she launched her first business when she was just 12 years old, selling animal bedding and employed two schoolfriends to help with packing. She sold the company two years later and went on to set up a business making beds for pets.
Her adult career took her to Cancer Research UK where she became its director for Scotland before moving south of the border after meeting her husband, Nigel.
But her work at the hospice has given her the greatest satisfaction. In 2004, she took the lead when we changed our name from Shropshire and Mid Wales Hospice to Severn Hospice and there are many memories she treasures. But the one that made the greatest impression took place in the depths of winter.
“An old man was brought into the hospice as a patient, he had been homeless and liked a drink, and we knew he needed our care,” she said. “He was made comfortable, and we cared for him for a few days.
“Then one evening he said he wanted to feel the snow on his face one last time. So, we wrapped him in tinfoil and blankets and gently put him in the garden for a few minutes with his favourite tipple. He lay there with a magical smile on his face.
“That epitomizes what hospice care is about, it’s about meeting people and tailoring their care to their needs. That is a real difference here, compared to elsewhere, there is a tranquillity that makes such an impact on our patients and their families.”
We were hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and our finances were affected, during the lockdowns its shops were closed, and fundraising events cancelled. But we are now bouncing back.
“Myself and my team have been a bridge with the community who want to help us. We are the key that unlocks that door and give people a way of supporting us. During my time, the community has given us £150 million, and, for a relatively small area, that is a colossal amount of money, and we are so grateful to our supporters for their generosity. I did not do this on my own, it was a real team and community effort – I just played a part and was a conductor in an orchestra.
“Now I am passing that baton on. I wish everyone well and I think they can build something brilliant. I have met some wonderful people along the way, and I will never cease to be amazed how people will help us and help the hospice.”
But she is not cutting her ties completely – she will continue to act as the key contact to administer gifts left in Wills to the hospice. “I am looking forward to seeing how the hospice rises to the challenges ahead. We are moving into a different era, and it is time for fresh blood and fresh eyes.
“I think it will take me time to adjust but I’m looking forward to lots of walks with my dog Ollie and being able to just get up one day, see the sun shining and go off to the beach with Nigel. That will be very liberating.”