This is why St Catherine's Hospice trustee Tony Bonser was honoured with prestigious award at London's Mansion House

A dedicated volunteer at St Catherine’s Hospice at Lostock Hall, whose work is inspired by his late son, has been awarded a rare League of Mercy medal.

Monday, 8th November 2021, 1:54 pm

Retired deputy head Tony Bonser, 76, from Hoghton, near Preston, wanted to help improve end of life experiences following the death of his son Neil in 2009 at the age of 35.

He is one of only 30 across the country to receive the accolade this year and he and wife Dorothy were delighted to attend the awards ceremony at London's Mansion House.

Tony said: "After Neil's death, it was important to us that we worked to make his story known, and especially to improve communication for those who needed palliative and end of life care. We are both delighted that St Catherine' s Hospice have given us that opportunity, and also that we are able, through the hospice, to help improve care for those in the area Neil loved so much."

Tony Bonser (left) pictured after receiving his award from Lord Lingfield, Chair of Trustees for the League of Mercy, (pictured right) in the Egyptian Room of the Mansion House, London.

Neil was diagnosed with a sarcoma and was cared for at The Christie Hospital in Manchester. He was studying for an MA in local history at Lancaster University and worked as a telephone lines operator at a Preston loan company when he became ill. He had hoped to become an academic specialising in local history.

Tony first began volunteering as a driver for St Catherine’s, transporting outpatients to the hospice near Preston each week who would have otherwise struggled to access its support.

Since 2014, he has sat on the Board of Trustees and now serves as Vice Chairman. He is also chair of the Patients and Families Sub-Committee, which drives patient and public involvement in the hospice’s decision making and of the hospice's Knowledge Exchange Committee, which works to promote sharing of skills and experience across health and social care sectors. Tony is also a lay-member of the Palliative and End of Life Care Strategic Leaders Network.

He was nominated by St Catherine's Hospice for his service and commitment and said: "It came totally out of the blue. It was unexpected."

Toy and Dorothy's son Neil who died after being diagnosed with a sarcoma

Now he says he is looking forward to wearing the medal he was given on Remembrance Sunday. There are strict guidelines about when the medals can be worn and Remembrance Day is one of the permitted occasions. Each year a maximum of just 50 medals are awarded.

Tony started his teaching career at Tulketh High School at Ingol then worked at Palatine High School, Blackpool, retiring in 1996 from his post as deputy head with responsibility for the curriculum.

He is a great advocate of hospice care and said his work for end of life care had taken him to some 20 hospices around the country. He said: "There's a sense of joy and relaxation and just taking a pleasure in life when you go into a hospice."

Lynn Kelly, Chief Executive of St Catherine’s, said: “Tony’s dedication to campaign for people to speak more openly and honestly about death and bereavement comes from his own personal experiences, which he draws on to raise awareness of end of life care issues locally and nationally.

“He wants to break down barriers and encourage people and professionals to talk about death, dying and bereavement, so that people can be more prepared, ensure their wishes are met, and that what is important to them is achieved.

“Tony is is innovative, courageous and confident in his beliefs – whilst remaining humble and personable. He supports our charity to develop and progress to meet current and future challenging demands, always keeping patients and their families at the heart of everything he does. We are delighted his valuable and unique contribution to St Catherine’s has been formally recognised with this well-deserved award.”

* St Catherine's Hospice is a local, independent charity which provides highly specialised palliative and end-of-life care for the people of Chorley, Preston and South Ribble. It helps people with all kinds of life-shortening conditions such as cancer, motor neurone disease and heart failure both at the hospice and in their own homes. It has more than 900 volunteers and relies on the generosity and efforts of its supporters to raise £4m of its annual £5.8m running costs, with £1.8m provided by the NHS.

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