Known internationally for its arts scene, its heady ethnic and cultural mix, its great sense of community, and for being an exciting (yet challenging) place to live, Shoreditch is also a place with a long history of people devoting their lives to better those of others. As I’ve noted before, it’s where many of the great Victorian reformers began and continued their work.
Nestled unassumingly amongst the hustle and bustle of Mare Street in the heart of Hackney is St Joseph’s Hospice. One of the oldest hospices in England, it serves a community characterized by a long history of poverty as well as great diversity. Founded in 1900 by five Irish women from the Catholic order, The Religious Sisters of Charity, its mission was to help the urban poor of the area. At this time, for many in the area, the workhouse was the only option for the dying, as hospitals were often too full to cope with those who had little or no chance of long-term survival. The Sisters were inspired by the words of the foundress of their order, Mary Aikenhead, who expressed her desire that “the poor be given for love which the rich obtain for money”.
Throughout the twentieth century, the hospice went from strength to strength, extending its premises and its reach, but all the while remaining at the same site with its history intertwined with that of Hackney. And today, St Joseph’s Hospice is a vital part of the local community, not only for the service it does for residents and their families with end-of-life care, but also as a hub for many community and volunteer activities.
Whilst St Joseph’s is partly funded by the NHS, they rely on fundraising to generate the extra £7 million a year that is needed to run the hospice successfully. They do this in many ways, but undoubtedly one of the events that has become something of a Hackney institution is their regular jumble sale. The next one is this Saturday, June 18th. I have it on good authority that the shoe stall in particular is a hit, so get down early to find some real bargains.