Forty Years since working on ‘Cooking The Wirral Way’: Lesley Mather is still a hospice hero

Published on: 17/05/2023

Lesley Mather, a truly lovely lady, has been volunteering on our main reception for over ten years now, which is just fantastic in itself.

However, forty years ago, she was a member of the hospice’s dedicated Heswall Support Group. Such groups had been forming all around the Wirral in the lead up to and following the official opening of the hospice on 24th June, 1983.

There were fourteen support groups organising in their local communities. Things like coffee mornings, bake sales, soup and sandwiches, afternoon teas, knitting bees, jam making craftwork, bucket appeals, choir singing and much more.

The Heswall group came up with the inspiring idea to produce a recipe book which would showcase food ideas from a host of people from around Wirral, and beyond, who enjoyed cooking and baking and were also committed to supporting the hospice.

The belief was that they would be able to create something to capture the imagination of our Wirral community and raise much needed funds for what was then, the newly opened, St John’s Hospice.

A sub-committee was formed with Celia Eden (the hospice’s first Appeals Coordinator) as its Chair and Lesley, a cookery teacher in adult education, was a natural choice to join. Four other ladies sat on the committee, Vickie Bucknall, Mary Farmer, Pat Kelly and Libby Lancely and the Cooking The Wirral Way recipe book was born. (Lesley gives all the other ladies ALL the credit).

Through everyone connected to the hospice, a call went out for people to share their recipe ideas for the book and local artists were also encouraged to send in their sketches for scenes from around our Wirral peninsula.

When the recipes came in, in their hundreds, many had to be tested and Lesley, as the accomplished, professional, cook, recalls having to lose, add and nurture some of the ingredients so that they really would reproduce a taste sensation.

She can’t remember who or how they asked the question, but HRH The Prince of Wales (now King Charles) submitted a recipe (shown here) for his famous (some say notorious) bread and butter pudding where, instead of using eggs in his recipe, he adds brandy (and the amount is NOT specified).

Other notable contributors included Dame Glenda Jackson, Lord Leverhulme and the Bishop of Chester.

There was, in fact, an overwhelming response. In the end, 150 recipes including starters, lunches, main courses, desserts and suppers were included in the finished book alongside some wonderful illustrations of Wirral sights and landmarks.

And, what a success!!!

Within three weeks of the launch, the first edition of 3,000 copies, had sold out. It was available through the groups in their community centres, church halls and at the hospice reception.]

A second edition was quickly printed which, too, sold out rapidly. It was literally selling, like hot cakes! 

It was carried as a news piece by all the local newspapers and magazines (as this page from Cheshire Life in 1983 shows).

Within a couple of months, by the end of November, 1983, an excellent £8,000 had been raised. (The picture here shows then Mayor Wirral, Councillor Harry Deverill, presenting the first cheque to Mr. Eddie Hebron,  the first chair of the hospice executive council).

Some 2500 copies were printed in time for Christmas 1983 and, in all, £14,000 was raised over a few, relatively short months. FANTASTIC!

Lesley looks back on those days so fondly and, following retirement, volunteering at the hospice was a natural progression. On main reception, Lesley’s organisational skills come to the fore operating the busy switchboard and greeting visitors to the hospice with a friendly smile and help to find wherever they need to go.

The hospice has also helped in her family life. Husband Alan has been a patient in our Wellbeing Centre where he received support for breathing difficulties from a lung condition he is living with. Since completing his eight-week course he has also attended the patients’ extra check in and chat coffee mornings in Wellbeing.

When asked, what does this and the hospice mean to you? Lesley says

The hospice has been a real help to Alan. I know many people have a misconception of the hospice. They think it’s just a place of sadness, and, of course, it sometimes is, but there is also lots of happiness, love and laughter around the place. We are so lucky to have Wirral Hospice St John’s on the Wirral and also a privilege to think it has helped Alan and that I have been able to do my little bit down the years to help.

Did Lesley say ‘little bit’ or ‘little bite’?

Whichever, because in both of those and many other ways, she’s made a massive contribution and, Lesley, everyone at the hospice is genuinely eternally grateful, Thank You!