Swansea’s continuing care unit for cancer patients is known as a model of excellence around the world. LAURA DAVIES uncovers the reasons for its success.
WHEN Margaret Bartlett put up her home as security to open a charity shop, some people may have called her mad.
Even her late husband Mick joked that they had better buy a tent to live in just in case the shop didn't take off.
But Margaret was so dedicated to raising money for Ty Olwen Hospice she would have done anything to help the charity.
And even now, at the age of 88, the great grandmother, of Derwen Fawr Road, Sketty, is still heavily involved with the hospice — the facility that she helped set up from its infancy in 1976.
Ty Olwen is very much a family affair with three generations tirelessly fundraising for the hospice, which is based in the grounds of Morriston Hospital.
Even Margaret's newest addition to her family, first great grandson Elgan Murray, who was born only a few weeks ago, has raised funds through a charity sweepstake.
The hospice, which started off as an idea in Margaret's front room back in 1976, has grown from strength to strength since it opened in October 1981 and is now known all over the world as a model of excellence.
But it wasn't always this way.
"It took five years and a bit of a battle to get it off the ground," said Margaret's daughter Helen Murray, who took over as chairwoman of the Ty Olwen Trust two years ago.
"The health authority didn't know if it wanted a hospice and there was a lot of scepticism among medical people.
"The one doctor who was convinced of its benefits was Sketty GP Peter Griffiths who proposed the idea after seeing the work done at St Christopher's in London where people with cancer went for pain and symptom control, as well as care, company and encouragement."
Helen was only 18-years-old when she became a volunteer for the hospice.
"I took down the minutes of the first meeting and I was doing it up until two years ago," says Helen, 55.
"My husband Paul has always been very supportive and is the vice chairman of the trust and my daughter Kate is also a volunteer and helps us with everything to do with social media. All my children have helped raise money for Ty Olwen — it is a charity that is very much close to all our hearts."
Margaret, who is president of the Trust, had good reason to want the Swansea hospice to become a reality.
"I lost my own mum to cancer and know how difficult it was nursing her so I wanted to do anything I could to help," says Margaret.
"Helen was only four and she remembers how hard it was."
Helen adds: "The thing I remember most is that her knuckles were always white because she was gripping her hands in pain. She tried not to show how much pain she was in. I now know there is no need for anyone to die in pain.
"I remember in the early days people kept calling Ty Olwen a death house, which made us all furious. Our aim was to make the place grow with life and hope. They kept asking what was I, a young woman, doing with death? But who knows who will be next?"
Ty Olwen offers support to people with life-limiting illnesses, including cancer.
Such work doesn't come cheap.
"We need to raise £400,000 every year just to stand still and that's a huge ask," says Helen, who works at Olchfa Comprehensive School.
"We rely on legacies and fundraising."
More than £400,000 has been raised from the charity shop that Margaret opened in the city's High Street in 1994.
"The idea for the shop was put forward to the trustees at the time but it was turned down," says Margaret.
"I came home upset and decided to put my own house up as security to open it.
"I was so confident it would take off and I couldn't let it go. My husband said he had better buy a tent for us to live in. But we didn't need it as it took off very well and still today we raise over £20,000 every year from the shop towards the hospice."
The family has covered just about every fund-raising activity you can think of to keep the cash flowing in.
Margaret and Mick, who passed away three years ago, used to run a tea-bar at the hospice every Thursday evening which was very popular.
It is a memory granddaughter Kate Murray, 23, still treasures.
"I used to help them in the tea bar when I was younger," she says.
"I grew up with Ty Olwen and it has always been part and parcel of family life so it's only natural that I want to help too."
So what keeps the Bartlett family going?
"I can't imagine my life without Ty Olwen," says Margaret, who turns 89 in May.
"I will even miss out on family nights out if I have Ty Olwen work to do. It keeps me active and my brain going and hearing from people who value Ty Olwen really inspires and motivates me. Seeing it grow from nothing to what it is today is something you can never take away. The hospice is testament to all the staff and volunteers who work so hard to provide a wonderful facility for patients and their families."