Bidge Garton has been volunteering at the Royal Sussex County Hospital for so many years, she was thanked by Her Majesty the Queen at the end of the last century when she represented the hospital at a Buckingham Palace reception.
That was in 1999 after ‘only’ 16 years on duty, and today, after more than thirty eight years of voluntary work at the city hospital, Bidge finally called it a day.
The mother of 3, grandmother of 6 and great-grandmother of 2, first turned up for her shift in April 1983 – the year Brighton made it to an FA Cup final at Wembley, when you could buy a house for less than £30k and the world said goodbye to the old pound note.
Initially Bidge volunteered on a ward before in 1984 moving into A&E, where she would remain for nearly four decades.
From the Brighton bombing of the Grand Hotel through the Fat Boy Slim free concert casualties to firework explosions, Bidge has seen it all in the A&E waiting rooms and in the corridors of the Kemptown hospital. As the UK celebrates the great work of volunteers throughout the UK in Volunteers Week, it was time to say, farewell – and, most of all, thank you.
Friends and colleagues from volunteer services, A&E teams and hospital representatives, gathered to give Bidge an emotional send-off in the A&E staff room, surrounding a table full of well-wishing notes, leaving gifts, and doughnuts – the treat for staff Bidge would always bring to ‘work’ with her.
“Angel of the night,’ ‘life-saver’, ‘amazing’, were a selection of tributes made to Bidge from patients and relatives over the years, A&E Matron, Will Rowell, fixed upon ‘legend’, when speaking about her today.
“That’s what she is – a legend. Bidge would always help colleagues, always comfort us when we needed comforting. Always be there to reassure relatives, always know what to say.
“She has been here forever, she is part of A&E. She is going to be missed. We need to find a Bidge Mark 2 – but I don’t think there is one out there. I am so proud to be able to say: Thank you.’”
Volunteer Services Manager, Julie Wiseman, has spent the last 19 years, working alongside Bidge. She said: ““Bidge is nothing short of a legend. She has provided reassurance, comfort and kindness to patients and relatives and supported the medical and nursing teams for all these years. She used to be known as the Owl of A&E because she would start her shifts late in the afternoon and still be here way after midnight – even on Christmas Day.
“She has seen everything there is to see in A&E. She’s been knocked down but always gets back up again. She has been a superb liaison between patient and relative and staff.
“Bidge never volunteered for recognition, for awards. But along they have come. Local newspapers and national newspapers, national healthcare awards, here at the Trust, meeting the Queen herself at Buckingham Palace. It would be impossible for Bidge to go unnoticed. She is going to be so missed.”
Chief Nurse Carolyn Morrice, representing UHSussex, welcomed Bidge as’ one of the team.’ She said: “Thirty eight years, that is such dedication. Bidge’s achievements here are outstanding and on behalf of the organisation, I want to say a heartfelt ‘thank you.’ She will be missed and we wish her well.”
“I only came to clear my locker,’ Bidge quipped after the event. “Really, I am overwhelmed by this today. It is so, so sad that I am leaving, I can’t tell you how sad. I’m just going to have to accept it.
“It hasn’t just been me giving – I have received so, so much. When I have felt low, when I have needed comfort and love I have received it here. Someone would always be on hand to offer me love and comfort.”
Over the years it hasn’t just been the volunteering – as if that wasn’t enough – Bidge has raised thousands and thousands of pounds to pay for facilities in A&E and also implemented a 999 Teddy Bear Club, where primary school-children would come to visit A&E, sit inside an ambulance and bring their Teddy Bear along to be x-rayed, so they could familiarise themselves with the inside of a hospital.
“That is one of my favourite memories,” said Bidge. “I really enjoyed that. Over 4,500 5-year-old’s from all over Brighton and Hove.
“There’s been so many memories. Meeting the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace. But I think I just like listening to people, helping people – that’s why I started all those years ago.
“Going home at night, knowing that I have helped someone who is going through one of the worst days of their life, that’s probably what I take with me the most.”
Not that Bidge Garton will really be leaving the A&E building. Along with flowers, a cut-glass bowl and a framed certificate of long-service, it was revealed that the relatives room where Bidge spent ‘thousands of nights, talking with thousands of people’ is to be renamed, The Bidge Garton Relatives Room – Always Time to Listen.
“I am so proud about that. I spent so much time in that room, so many people in there with me, so many memories. It’s amazing that the hospital has done that for me.”
Now Bidge has some time on her hands, she plans to spend it watching cricket at the county ground in Hove – cheering on her grandson.
“My grandson, George, is a professional cricketer and plays for Sussex. So that’s what I‘ll be doing. Watching him bowl – fast!”