Christmas carols play in the background, the sound of laughter and chatter fill the air, accompanied by the clink of glasses and plates brimming with turkey and all the trimmings being put down in front of people.
It could be any home across the country on December 25. Except it’s not. It’s Strathcarron Hospice where the hard-working staff are dedicated to making things as normal as possible for the patients.
This will be the 14th festive period Marjory Mackay has spent as director of nursing at the facility near Denny. During that time she has never heard one member of staff complain about having to work on Christmas Day.
“They see it as a privilege to be able to contribute to the fun and help make the day as special as possible,” she said.
She knows that for some patients and their families Christmas can be an especially difficult time, particularly with the knowledge for a few that this may be the last one they will all spend together.
“It may be their last Christmas and there is something poignant about that,” Marjory added. “It may be their last week or their last day and we are here to support people through that.
“Christmas gives people a chance to reflect on everything that is important to them and what they really value. At the hospice it is no different, but perhaps people are more aware of the importance of making the most of every day.”
In the run up to Christmas hospice staff have been busy talking to patients to find out who wants to go home for December 25 and who has family to provide the support needed.
Marjory added: “Since the start of this week people have been getting ready to go home if they can, while others may not leave till Christmas Eve or the day itself. Some might decide that they want to go out for a meal with family on the day and if they can they will.
“For those who are with us on Christmas Day we will do everything we can to make it as homely as possible. There is always a warm, friendly atmosphere here but there is something special about this time of year.”
The morning starts with the normal cooked breakfast and porridge before an eagerly awaited visit by Santa, who in 2014 is being helped out by one of the loyal band of volunteers who provide valuable support throughout the year, as well as on special occasions like this.
Providing Father Christmas with a band of helpers has become a traditional role for the domestic staff, who each year turn out in a variety of costumes. In the past this has been everything from elves to snowflakes and one year, even Christmas trees.
“There is always a lot of fun and laughter and a really lovely atmosphere at this time as Santa tours round meeting patients, their relatives and staff,” said Marjory.
“People can come and visit any time but at Christmas it can mean that even more family and friends want to come, so the hospice is really busy. We always have lots of refreshments available, all the goodies people like but don’t usually have every day.
“Our kitchen girls are in very early to prepare Christmas lunch for everyone who is here. People like to have the traditional fare if they are able but, if not, our staff will be happy to make whatever whets their appetite.”
Acknowledging the number of people who want to visit patients at this time, Marjory said every effort was made to find people a private place to be together. She said: “We want to give people space where they can spend time to enjoy the day.
“There is so much going on early in the day that by the time the Queen’s Speech comes round it tends to become a lot quieter. Visitors go home, patients rest and it is a very peaceful place as people recover from all the excitement. But again that is something that is replicated in homes throughout the country as people relax at the end of a hectic day.”
The hospice has 24 in-patient beds and of its 140 staff, around 45 will be working on Christmas Day. “Once they have everyone settled down, they will return to their own homes where, no doubt, they will enjoy a second Christmas with their own families,” said Marjory.
Festivities at Strathcarron started last week with the annual lunch, then like any place, people were busy getting organised for Christmas.
This will be the first festive season for the Hospice @ Home service launched in the summer. A dedicated team go into people’s homes providing support for them in the last two weeks of their lives.
The ambitious service was a year in the planning as the hospice fine-tuned its role to give assistance not just to the patient but also their carers in the final days, as well as helping district nurses and others contributing to care.
An expensive service to provide, Strathcarron secured a £700,000 Big Lottery Fund grant which will cover 70 per cent of the costs over the next five years. Additional funding is being provided by NHS Forth Valley Endowments and the Robertson Trust.
However, to allow all its vital work to continue, the hospice needs to raise an average of £10,000 every day to cover its costs.
Much of the fundraising, which also helps provides the Christmas treats, comes from the 10 resourceful Friends of Strathcarron groups, while charity shops across the district last year raised over £375,000.
The work of the hospice continues 365 days a year, but the dedicated team at Strathcarron is determined to do what it can to make Christmas as enjoyable and memorable as possible for all those in their care.