One of Sheffield’s best loved festive traditions is making a return for Christmas 2021

Think Christmas, think St Luke’s Festival of Light and this year we can all think about it again because one of Sheffield’s best loved festive traditions is back for 2021.

Saturday, 2nd October 2021, 4:00 am

The Festival of Light is the annual celebration that sees thousands of lights illuminate the charity’s Little Common Lane garden in Whirlow, all dedicated in memory of loved ones.

Last year’s switch on had to be cancelled as the country went into winter lockdown, though supporters did have the opportunity to at least enjoy the moment with a special online ceremony.

Organisers are confident, however, that this year’s event will be able to go ahead on December 5, hosted by BBC Radio Sheffield presenter and keen St Luke’s supporter Paulette Edwards. She has presented her show from the hospice and did so when the In Patient Centre opened.

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The Festival of Lights launch in 2019

So many have people have joined the event over the years but for anyone unable to be at the hospice, there will still be chance to join in at home with a video of the light switch-on available to view on the St Luke’s website and Facebook page at 6pm.

And making the event even more special will be the fact that this year’s ceremony forms part of the charity’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

“Festival of Light is loved by St Luke’s supporters and for many it is the start of the festive season,” said St Luke’s Head of Fundraising Joasia Lesniak.

“It’s a time for us all to come together to remember and celebrate the lives of our loved ones.

St Luke's Festival of Light event in 2013

“We are delighted to let you know, that preparations are underway to welcome you back this year on Sunday December 5 from 5pm, to enjoy food, music and of course gather together to see our light switch on, in the true Festival of Light spirit.

“Safety is, and always will be our main priority and we’re busy planning the safest way for us to hold this event, without too much compromise to still offer our supporters the chance to remember loved ones together.

“We’re hoping that this year will feel extra special as this Festival of Light marks the start of our 50th anniversary year.

“St Luke’s has come a long way in the 50 years it has been caring for terminally ill people in Sheffield and the last two years have certainly been some of our most challenging.

Radio presenter Paulette Edwards

“We’re excited to move forwards into a year in which we celebrate some of the great work being done and give thanks to supporters like you, who make it all possible.”

That great work includes the story of Jess Richards and Dave Stewart, for whom a Christmas wish became reality when the St Luke’s Hospice team stepped in to help the couple enjoy their dream wedding.

There’s is a touching story which shows just how St Luke’s staff will go to fulfil the vision of hospice founder Professor Eric Wilkes, who strongly believed that people at the end of life should receive the same degree of respect, care, and expertise as those at the beginning.

And that’s why Dave, aged 32, is now supporting the St Luke’s Festival of Light, encouraging people to show their support to the charity in the traditional season of giving.

St Luke's Hospice.

Dave, who is a sport lecturer at Sheffield College, had been a Year 11 student at Hope Valley College when Jess was in Year 10 but the couple didn’t actually meet until Jess was working behind the bar at the Sir William pub in Grindleford which was Dave’s local.

“My brother already knew her quite well because they were in the same group of friends and we suppose we must have met each other many years before,” Dave recalls.

“I played in the Sir William football team, darts team and cricket team so I was spending every Saturday evening in the pub and that’s really when we officially met.

“We started talking and as time went on we realised had developed feelings for each other and we went on a couple of dates.

“Everything moved on from there and we came to live in Walkley in 2016 and that’s when we decided to go travelling, flying out to Australia in October 2017.”

This should have been the perfect time for the couple but it was while they were in Perth, Western Australia, that Jess first noticed a small lump in her right breast.

More than a thousand people enjoyed the true spirit of Christmas at St Luke’s Hospice when the charity hosted its 22nd Festival of Light.

She booked an appointment with a doctor and was assured after tests that she had a nonmalignant cyst.

The couple moved on to Melbourne where the problem recurred and Jess was referred for an ultrasound examination, though again she was told she had a cyst, which was drained.

Moving on to New Zealand, the lump returned and again Jess went through the same process of visits to a doctor and drainage.

Hong Kong in July saw the problem persist and when the couple finally returned home, Jess visited her own doctor and was again told the lump was a cyst.

It was only in 2018 that Jess was told that she had triple negative Stage 3 breast cancer and she began the long process of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy as she approached her 30th birthday.

“As far as we were aware, it was confined to the one breast and Jess was given the all clear and even rang the bell at the hospital,” Dave remembers.

“She was in remission, she had her birthday with all her friends and we were confident for the future.”

During the 2020 lockdown, though, Jess started to feel out of breath and a scan showed that the cancer had spread to her lung and further sessions of chemo therapy couldn’t help as the cancer spread to Jess’s brain.

Dave proposed to Jess on Christmas Day 2020 though as she was now in the final stages of her battle against cancer and the the country was still in lockdown, the couple had no idea how they would make a wedding work.

But when just a short while later Jess became a patient at the St Luke’s In Patient Centre, the whole team pulled out all the stops to ensure that the ceremony could go ahead.

The St Luke’s chaplaincy team had to apply to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Facility Office for a special licence for the ceremony to be held in the St Luke’s Garden Room.

There were flowers and balloons to be ordered, along with a special celebration cheese cake created by the St Luke’s catering team.

Then, with just Jess’s parents, Dave’s mum, his best man brother Jamie and Jess’s bridesmaid friend Heather Eggleton in attendance, the ceremony went ahead on a day of unexpected and unseasonal blue skies.

“We were engaged on Christmas Day and at that point we were still hoping that we would get to the summer,” says Dave.

“But then Jess went to St Luke’s and I cannot speak highly enough of what everybody there did for us.

“They made sure that at this very difficult time I could spend time with Jess when in hospital she might have had to cope with everything on her own.

“The doctors and nurses were all fantastic and even though we knew this was the place where Jess was going to die, there was still fun and a truly great atmosphere.”

Above everything else, Dave recalls, there was support and warmth and laughter, especially as plans for the wedding got under way.

“The wedding was more than anything Jess could have wished for,” he says.

“I remember her saying that the one thing she wanted to do before she left this earth was getting married to me, to marry her soul mate, and it was a massive ray of light to her knowing it would happen.

“It was everything Jess could have wanted, a beautiful day and it wouldn’t have happened without St Luke’s.

“One of the things that most moved me was the way that, on the day of the ceremony, people came out to see Jess going to the ceremony - it made her happy and it gave other people something to be happy about too.

“And I know that Jess would be happy that the memory of her perfect day is now inspiring other people to support St Luke’s.”

It is stories like this which would make the founder of St Luke’s proud. Professor Wilkes had a vision and it is perfectly summed up by his daughter, Ruth Ostrovskis-Wilkes.

She said: “My father strongly believed that people at the end of life should receive the same degree of respect, care, and expertise as those at the beginning. He was determined that Sheffield deserved and needed a hospice to help achieve this.”

“At the same time, he wanted the focus to be on supporting people to stay in their own homes if that was their wish.

“Fifty years later, the thing dad would be most delighted and proud of is that for half a century, standards of care have never changed, and patients and families remain at the centre of everything St Luke’s does.”

Jess Richards and Dave Stewart were able to get married thanks to the help of staff at St Luke's Hospice
Ruth Ostrovskis-Wilkes, the daughter of hospice founder Professor Eric Wilkes
St Lukes Hospice Festival of Light
The 50th anniversary logo for St Luke's Hospice
Hospice staff are celebrating St Luke's 50th anniversary