Edinburgh Maggie's Centre celebrates 20th birthday

WHEN the first plans for the Edinburgh Maggie's Centre went from dreams to drawings, many thought the idea would never last.

Maggies Centre Edinburgh celebrates its 20th birthday. L-R MSP Miles Briggs, centre head Andrew Anderson and architect Richard Murphy. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The bold concept of a centre that offered something other than medical care for cancer patients was unlike anything that existed in 1993 when landscape designer Maggie Keswick Jencks was told she had terminal breast cancer.

Sadly Maggie died before a centre opened in her name in 1996, and she never had a chance to see the profound impact it has had on hundreds of thousands of patients over the last two decades.

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It was standing room only as hundreds of people squeezed into the centre at the Western General Hospital yesterday to ring in the charity’s 20th birthday.

Father-of-three Andrew Slorance brought his daughters Olivia, six, and Millie, nine, to the party, which fell on the first anniversary of his diagnosis with a rare blood cancer called mantle cell lymphoma.

The 46-year-old said: “Bringing the kids was important to me. Maggie’s isn’t just for me, it’s been such a help to my family.

“My wife got a lot out of it and it really helped my kids with understanding what was happening to me.

“They call it ‘our Maggie’s’ now.”

Andrew, from Liberton, hailed the centre, which he described as “peaceful, private and full of life at the same time”.

The Evening News has teamed up with dedicated fundraiser Lisa Stephenson and Maggie’s to raise more than £750,000 for an extension to the centre, including three new rooms and extensive remodelling of the garden.

It will allow the centre to see 5000 additional people a year.

Throughout its 20-year existence, Maggie’s has relied on the generosity of the public to continue to deliver its extraordinary services.

The daily running of the centre costs £800,000 per year, which is made possible only by donations from those who it has helped.

Andrew Anderson, centre head of Maggie’s Edinburgh, said: “The only reason we have been as successful as we have been and able to continue for so long is because of the incredible generosity of the people of Edinburgh.

“We hope that comes because people have found us to be supportive when they need it most.

“Everything about Maggie’s is a community. It is the most extraordinary place.”

Over the years the centre has seen countless donations ranging from regular gifts to huge one-off donations from former patients.

Andrew recalled one woman who had used the centre 15 years ago, who donated all the funds raised at her recent 50th wedding anniversary party to the centre.

Andrew, a former oncology nurse at the Western General Hospital, added: “It means so much that people remember us as having helped them in a meaningful way.”

Leading city architect Richard Murphy – who designed the original centre – has drawn up the plans for the £1.2 million extension, which should be completed next year.

He said: “When we first started out, I don’t think anyone had any idea it would turn out this way.

“There was some nervousness at first about how we were going to make it work but Maggie had enormous faith as she was such a positive person.

“It clearly provides a service that is really needed.”

One of the things that sets Maggie’s apart is the charity’s attitude to its buildings, which are designed to inspire and uplift people in difficult times.

Murphy said: “I always say that 95 per cent of what makes Maggie’s special is down to the people who run the place, both the staff and volunteers.

“They create the welcoming atmosphere that is so full of life and light.

“If the buildings help to lift people’s spirits and inspire them then that is wonderful.

“Maggie’s is the antithesis of a hospital as it is not institutional or anonymous.

“There are no corridors or rooms with name tags, or reception desks.

“It is just open.”