Maggie’s marks 20 years with new centre in Forth Valley

From left, Maggie's CEO Laura Lee, supporter Fraser Smart, and Marie McQuade, director of culture and innovation, outside the new centre in Larbert. Picture: Contributed
From left, Maggie's CEO Laura Lee, supporter Fraser Smart, and Marie McQuade, director of culture and innovation, outside the new centre in Larbert. Picture: Contributed
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Set on the banks of a lochan and surrounded by ancient woodland, the new Maggie’s drop-in centre in the grounds of Forth Valley Hospital in Larbert is still a work in progress but it has big ambitions for when it opens this summer.

The walls are up and the roof is on – the project is clearly on track for offering support to cancer patients and their families.

Once complete, Maggie’s Forth Valley will be the 20th Maggie’s centre worldwide and has been built to coincide with the charity’s 20th anniversary year.

The blueprints for the original centre at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh were drawn up by the charity’s namesake Maggie Jencks with the facility opening on 7 November, 1996, more than a year after Maggie lost her battle with the disease.

Since her death, Maggie’s family and chief executive Laura Lee have worked to ensure her vision for warm, welcoming support centres became a reality.

“We have wanted a drop-in centre at Forth Valley for well over 15 years and we were approached by one of the consultants in Glasgow who was going through breast cancer herself and had used Maggie’s,” explains Liz MacMillan, centre head at Maggie’s Forth Valley.

“That was back in 2010-11. It’s just taken off from there.”

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Creating a friendly, homely environment is at the heart of Maggie’s 20 centres which are located throughout the UK and as far afield as Hong Kong and Barcelona.

The Forth Valley centre, funded by donations and £3 million support from grant-making breast cancer charity Walk the Walk, is no different.

Its location by the water is popular with dog walkers and the sense of calm is a welcome change from the clinical feel of many healthcare facilities.

“There were a couple of spots we looked at but I think when everybody saw where the lake was then that just sold it,” says MacMillan. “Hopefully on a nice day we can put chairs and tables out and if people just want space on their own they can sit outside.

“I would like to think if there was space we could do tai chi and yoga outside.

“Some centres also have gardening groups. Gardening is a holistic activity and is known to improve wellbeing.”

Each visit to Maggie’s starts in the kitchen where cancer patients and their families are able to make themselves a cup of tea, have a seat at the table and feel at home.

“The kitchen table will create a very warm, safe environment,” says MacMillan.

“If you think about years gone by, the kitchen table was the heart of the home and we have found that so much goes on around the table at Maggie’s centres. People share stories, hints and tips and a lot of good friendships have been formed.”

From the outside, Maggie’s Forth Valley has been designed to look like an eagle spreading its wings and inside there will be rooms for one-to-one chats plus larger spaces for group activities.

Maggie’s chief executive Lee said: “It’s an important population of people who live in and around Stirling and Falkirk who until now have had to come to Edinburgh for the care and support that Maggie’s offers.

“It’s really lovely to know that they are not going to have to travel into the city.”

When the Edinburgh centre opened in 1996, it was a pilot project but its success is clear from the rate of growth. “There are over 60 cancer centres in the UK and we are only at 20 so there’s a lot more for Maggie’s to do,” Lee added.

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