AT first John Duckett was in two minds about coming to Barnsley Hospice.
“I think there is a stigma that if you come to a hospice you don’t have long to live,” the 62-year-old told The Star.
“But it’s not like that these days - it’s a nice place to come, somewhere I can get out of the house and have a break.”
John, a married dad of one from Brierley, suffers from pulmonary fibrosis, scarring of the lungs, which means he relies on a permanent oxygen supply.
His condition forced him to retire early, at 58, from his job at Naylor Industries in Cawthorne, and over the last year his illness has got worse.
He visits Barnsley Hospice’s day centre once a week, where he has reflexology for his feet, speaks to doctors and nurses about his condition, and gets his lunch.
Most importantly, the service provides a break for his wife, who cares for John full-time.
“They are very, very good here,” John said. “I would recommend it to anybody. They have a lot of time for you.
“It’s a change of surroundings for me and they even have volunteers who drive me here, which is very kind of them.
“I try to get out as much as I can, but it’s not very easy for me, so this is a great service.”
Yvonne Mitchell, 82, from Hoyland Common, suffers from bowel cancer.
She is a widow, with no family, so her weekly visits to the hospice are some of the only times she meets people other than her carers.
“I was very run down and was on my own a lot - my carers thought coming here would bring my out a bit,” she said.
“I thought it would be like coming in to school, queuing up for your dinners - but it’s not like that.
“They are a very good crowd, we all talk to other and have a good time.
“If we have any problems we can have a talk to the staff, and it seems as though nothing is too much trouble for them.”
Ian Carey, the hospice’s chief executive, says the centre’s services are becoming more important as life expectancy lengthens.
“People are living longer with more complex diseases,” he said.
“Demand for services is steadily increasing, and care is getting more complex - so the challenge for us to meet those needs, but in a financial environment where there is less money flowing around.”
The hospice is a charity, providing care free-of-charge to anyone who needs it.
It receives a £1.6 million grant from the NHS each year - but that has been frozen since 2009 - and the charity needs to raise a further £1.9m from supporters to keep the hospice running.
That money funds a 10-bed inpatient unit, a day centre, counselling team, support groups for families and bereaved relatives, and a community team visiting patients in their homes.
Hospice staff are also active in Barnsley hospital.
“We are not only involved in what happens within these four walls but in the hospital and community as well,” said Mr Carey.
“Our two consultants, who, uniquely, are employed directly by the hospice, do sessions here at the hospice and in the hospital. That gives us more involvement.”
He added: “Financially we are doing OK at the moment but the future is uncertain.
“There have been no pay rises since 2010 for our staff. But we haven’t had to get rid of staff - in fact we have a new occupational therapist starting.
“We are feeling the pinch but we are managing to extend our service.”
The financial situation is helped by the fact the hospice is has an army of 400 volunteers - four to every member of staff - who do anything from driving patients, organising events and fundraising.
And despite the economic situation the hospice is actively trying to expand its reach, to get more patients in with a wider range of symptoms.
“About 80 per cent of our patients have a cancer diagnosis - but we always say it’s not about the diagnosis – it’s about the symptoms,” Mr Carey said.
“We are trying to promote our service to people with Motor Neurone Disease, Parkinson’s and other conditions.
“We are proactively going out there and saying to health care professionals: ‘There is something we can do for your patients and it doesn’t have to be about cancer.’”
As John Duckett feared, many people think a hospice is somewhere people go to die - but Mr Carey agrees that is not necessarily the case.
“Most people prefer to die at home,” he said.
“We are able to help people with that. We sort out their symptoms and then we send them home.
“We are trying to achieve an increased turnover, with shorter stays.”
Dr Becky Hirst, one of the two top palliative care consultant specialists employed by the hospice, says working outside the NHS is a blessing.
“The benefits of being outside the NHS are proving to be very useful,” she said.
“It’s much easier to change direction. We are quite small so we can make changes really quickly if we want to.
“I’ve been here two years and it’s the friendliest place I’ve ever worked.
“People are very down to earth in Barnsley - they say it as it is.
“At difficult times in people’s lives that honesty really helps.”