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Willow Wood Hospice celebrates milestone and the end of an era

Willow Wood Hospice has been celebrating 25 years of providing compassionate care to patients from the local community. 

On Frida, May 24, long-serving staff and volunteers past and present gathered in the hospice gardens for a special tree-planting ceremony. 

Hospice Patron Sharman Birtles MBE JP DL, Vice Lord-Lieutenant, delivered a moving speech reflecting on the hospice's journey and growth before planting a commemorative tree with the very same spade that cut the first sod in 1997. 

Chairman Philip Millson also spoke about the hospice, inspiring everyone to share cherished memories, reminiscing about the early days and how far the organisation has come. 

The celebrations continued the following Friday, May 31, which was Karen Houlston’s last working day before she retired after 24 years of service to Willow Wood. 

Karen first joined the hospice, based in Ashton-under-Lyne, in January 2000 as a part-time bookkeeper. 

With a finance background, she fulfilled a number of roles – including admin manager, finance & services lead and hospice exec manager. After completing a Master’s Degree at Lancaster University in ‘Hospice Leadership’ in October 2013, Karen went on to become CEO. 

Staff and volunteers who have worked with Karen came together for a wonderful BBQ, prepared by Willow Wood’s catering team, in the hospice gardens – where the Willow Wood Hospice Choir also sang for the occasion. 

With some of her family also in attendance, Karen received a range of lovely gifts, a card and a beautiful retirement cake made by Lynn Valentine from the hospice’s catering team. 

Chair Philip Millson, director of finance Ian Wicks and Karen’s successor as CEO, Tracy Minshull, reflected on Karen’s achievements and wished her well for the future. 

In an emotional speech, Karen shared: "I can honestly say that I have looked forward to every single day at Willow Wood Hospice and enjoyed every moment."

As a surprise, a video montage of staff and volunteers holding up their personal retirement messages was played out to Karen on a screen during the BBQ. 

Since 1999, the hospice has been a centre of care and compassion, providing dedicated support to patients from across Tameside and Glossop with a life-limiting illness and those closest to them. 

The significant milestone will also be commemorated at the 25th Anniversary Ball at The Village Hotel in Ashton-under-Lyne on Friday (June 14). 

Limited tickets are available at https://willowwood.org.uk/events/the-ball/

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