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Charitable purposes


“Caring” and “community” go well together. Denham has no shortage of either. In every one of the Denham communities there are people and organisations providing care, support and assistance for others. We can’t cover them all, but we’ll welcome “comments” at the end of this article drawing attention to other charitable ventures in all of the Denham communities.


The story we tell here is that of Denham's support groups for the Thames Valley Hospice which for over 40 years have helped the hospice to provide care for terminally ill patients in South Buckinghamshire and elsewhere. The support groups' events and activities have benefited not only the hospice but have provided a focus for Denham’s people to come together with a real sense of community.


Hospice beginnings


Douglas Denny was a doctor, but not a medical doctor. It seems that his doctorate was in mechanical engineering. As managing director of an aviation related business in Slough he led a company supplying parts to leading aircraft builders.


Douglas’ wife Pauline worked as a health visitor. She was troubled that people she encountered with terminal illnesses faced real problems because of the lack of facilities to meet their needs.


For a few years Douglas and Pauline supported a charity in Liverpool, Jospice International, which had been set up to raise funds to establish hospices in the U.K. and elsewhere. Douglas  began to think that maybe the Liverpool charity could extend its work to the Slough and Windsor area. He knew that the idea had been in the minds of local people since the mid-1970s but  without much progress. So in July 1981 Douglas made contact with Jospice International.


The people at Jospice were very encouraging. They put Douglas in touch with a group of hospice supporters in Gerrards Cross. The Thames Valley Branch of Jospice International was formed.


There were the inevitable early teething problems. It became clear to Douglas and his wife Pauline  that a great deal of single minded determination would be needed to achieve the branch’s objective. But in January 1982 the fundraising project was launched with letters to local churches and health centres and releases to the local press. In Douglas’ own words the response was more enthusiastic than he and his fundraiser colleagues had dared to hope.


Initially the fundraising effort was carried on in the name of Jospice International, but after a while it became clear that Jospice could not carry the debt that would have to be taken on to secure a suitable property in Douglas’ local area. An amicable split was agreed and the Thames Valley Hospice Group set out to achieve its objective on its own.


In 1984 the Chalfonts, Gerrards Cross and Denham Thames Valley Hospice Support Group was formed to help raise funds for Douglas and Pauline Denny's venture. Led by a former Gerrards Cross GP, Dr. Patricia Kerin, this new group set about organising an ambitious series of events including concerts, plays, sponsored walks and cycle rides, even house to house collections. Over the next ten years this support group of the four villages raised over £200,000 for the hospice as the Amersham Advertiser reported in April 1994.



Barn dance supporters


Though Denham’s popular local doctor, Ian Paton had sadly died in 1978, the hospice’s fundraising appeal to local medical practitioners came to the attention of his widow, Madelene. She responded. Those who remember Madelene Paton know that she would never have failed to respond to a challenge like that. In the Denham branch of the four village support group, Madelene began organising coffee mornings, bazaars and quiz suppers to raise funds - and also a car treasure hunt, which though very enjoyable at the time is an event rightly considered rather too risky these days.


But these were not Madelene’s main contributions to the fundraising effort. She began to organise parties in her garden. But not just any parties. These were barn dances.


Barn dancing by that name is said to have its origins in the farming communities of the country music states of the USA, mainly Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. The name given to these events leaves no doubt about where they took place. They were events which brought communities together with raw original country music. The regular swapping of dance partners is central to the fun, encouraging laughter, conversation and general joviality. It’s a tradition that has not died. Communal dancing accompanied by a three chord thrash on guitar and banjo supported by a jaunty violin riff was a Sunday afternoon delight for the authors of this piece as recently as November 2022.


However so similar were these barn dances to English Country dancing and the Celtic Ceilidh that it must be that American barn dances were imported into the US by English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish immigrants. The favourite refrain of barn dances which refers to “bringing the girl back home” almost certainly has a perhaps unintended meaning.


Madelene Paton’s barn dances were very much in the American style. Band members dressed in checked shirts, denim jeans and Stetson hats, perhaps even knee high boots and chaps but no-one can remember that. Partygoers were encouraged to dig out their own check shirts and anything resembling a cowboy hat that they could find.  Madelene gathered a small group of friends around her to help organise the event. Ann Collins remembers the rivalry amongst the three couples who provided the barbecues, Ann and Bernard being one of them, to see who could cook the most. Madelene herself is said to have picked all the strawberries, though no doubt she did have a few helpers, certainly including her companion Pam Trusk, and Denham Parish Councillor Pam Price together with her daughter Gillian.


Pam Price (pictured) took over the chair of the Chalfonts, Gerrards Cross and Denham Thames Valley Hospice Support Group in 1988 and served in that role for three years.


In her "Village Voice" column of the Buckinghamshire Advertiser on 16th August 1989, Denham's Jo Francis reported "Madelene Paton of Denham Village is one of the group's most enthusiastic supporters and the barn dance held annually in the lovely garden of her home in Ashmead Lane has become one of the village's social events of the year. Last year more than 300 people danced the evening away and £1700 was raised."


We’ve not yet discovered exactly when Madelene’s barn dances began (though probably in 1984), nor when they came to an end, so please add a comment if you know. What is certain is that the barn dances raised several thousands of pounds at first to add to Douglas and Pauline Denny’s slowly growing fund, and then subsequently to help the hospice grow.


Support for the hospice was not Madelene Paton's only charitable purpose in the village. Before she was 10 years old she was out with her mother collecting for the Red Cross and later became a Red Cross "commandant".


For her charity work Madelene was honoured with an MBE in 1995. The previous year, 1994, at the age of 80 Madelene had been honoured with the naming after her of a luncheon club at what was then the Red Cross Day Care Centre in Nightingale Way. The Buckinghamshire Advertiser of 19th January 1994 celebrated the event under the banner headline "A lifetime dedicated to care and concern". The Madelene Paton Day Luncheon Club continues still at St Mark's Hall in Denham Green.



The hospice open to patients


In 1982 Douglas was touring hospices around the country finding out how they work and what their needs would be when starting out. He wrote in his own personal history of this time that he soon came to understand that there was no fixed model for a hospice. Rather there was, he found, “a variety of valid and successful formats that reflected local circumstances, resources and culture”. Even in those early days he had the support of Gerrards Cross Doctor Patricia (Trish) Kerin who later became the first chair of the Chalfonts Gerrards Cross and Denham Support Group.


It took two and a half years of searching for Douglas to find a property for the hospice at an affordable price. Even then the property that was found was on the market for twice the sum that Douglas and his colleagues had planned for. But they thought Pine Lodge in Windsor was perfect. A price of £325,000 was agreed with £275,000 in hand and six months to raise the balance. Happily the money was raised and the purchase was completed.


That was the point at which things just took off. The Duchess of Norfolk agreed enthusiastically to be the Patron for the hospice and subsequently its President. With her very active support £1.2 million was raised. Architects worked without charge and builders worked at cost price. On 28th  September 1986 the foundation stone of a new building was ceremoniously laid and at last on 18th May 1987, the first patients arrived at the hospice. It is a remarkable story of determination and commitment that had taken Douglas and Pauline Denny and all their many supporters and associates from an idea rooted in a health visitors concerns to an official opening of the Thames Valley Hospice by Queen Elizabeth II on 9th November 1987.



Denham’s Hospice Support Group


By that time, 15 hospice support groups had been established in the towns and villages around Windsor. In Denham in 1986 the late Ken Mackay initiated a support group to meet at his home at the Old Cottage on Village Road. Ken gathered around him a group of 20 or so friends including Jay Ashbrook at Wrango as the group’s treasurer, and film producer, Hugh Stewart.


Curiously though it seems that no-one in Ken Mackay's support group knew about the support being given to the hospice from the proceeds of the barn dances in Ashmead Lane, and the various other activities organised by Madelene Paton and her friends. Similarly no-one organising the barn dances seems to have known about Ken's support group. Certainly those who participated in all these events to whom we have been able to speak have been surprised by our research.


Ken Mackay's support group at first mainly confined its activities to meetings at The Old Cottage reviewing the progress of the hospice as reported by Douglas Denny and pledging their own continuing financial support. Douglas Denny never missed any of their meetings.



The Support Group grows 


In 1987, Philip and Irene Courtenay-Luck moved into The White House on Village Road. In their own story about The White House told elsewhere on this website, they both express the strong commitment they felt towards Denham’s community spirit on their arrival in the village, and Philip quickly joined Ken Mackay’s hospice support group as an enthusiastic member.


By 1994 the group had outgrown The Old Cottage in size and Ken Mackay wondered if Philip would mind hosting its meetings at The White House. The move provided a great opportunity to expand the group still further with a target of 100 members. It became the Denham 100 Thames Valley Hospice Support Group. Interrupted only by the restrictions during the time of the Covid 19 pandemic, Philip and Irene have been hosting twice yearly gatherings of members of what is now the Thames Hospice Support Group to the present day. Philip makes a point of inviting new residents of whom he is aware into the group and welcomes nominations of new neighbours from existing members. The group now has close to 150 members and has made over £800,000 for the hospice in its 38 years.


Ken Mackay sadly died in 2006. Philip recalls that for many years he felt duty bound to respect the demand always made by Ken Mackay that apologies for absence must be read at every meeting of the group. Philip has however had to curtail this practice since the list of apologies from members on holiday or with other engagements became so long that it would have taken quite some time to mention them all. What is still impressive is that members do still send in their regrets that they cannot attend the meetings. The regret is understandable. Though no doubt it reflects a sense of loyalty to the group, it is also certain that the hospitality of Philip, Irene and their team is not something any member of the group wants to miss.


The serious business of these meetings is not forgotten. As Douglas Denny never missed a group meeting, so now are the twice yearly meetings attended by representatives of the Thames Hospice with full reports of progress as the hospice continues to grow and develop.



Activities


The growth in size of the Support Group and the recruitment into the Group of new residents has enabled an expansion of the Group’s fundraising activities including its Burns night event, the summer ball, Christmas at Da Remo restaurant and music at The Green Man. Philip Courtenay-Luck and other cycling members of the Group also seek fundraising sponsorship for their annual London to Brighton bike ride. In 2023 Philip celebrated the completion of his 40th ride. His sponsor donations are shared between the Thames Hospice and the British Heart Foundation.


One of the most popular activities is the summer walk, following public footpaths around the area according to a plan devised by Philip, whose miles are reputedly rather longer than would be recorded on anyone else’s odometer. Nonetheless the reward in the form of Irene’s famous sausage pie, amongst many other treats, makes the effort worthwhile.



Community


The history of Denham’s commitment to charitable aims is a central feature of Denham’s community. Through gathering to support the Thames Hospice and other charities, Denham strengthens its own community and reinforces a commitment to help others and each other. The relatively recent introduction of an annual Ceilidh into the annual programme of the Denham Thames Hospice Group has in a way turned this story full circle. Just as Madelene Paton’s barn dances brought the community together in support of the hospice 40 years ago, so now do the closely related Ceilidhs continue to achieve the same objective. Long may all the charitable works of all Denham's communities continue.



Sources and photos


British Newspaper Archive - https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

Glenys Price

Ann Collins

Philip and Irene Courtenay-Luck

Barn dancing by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Footnote: To learn more about the inspiring history of the Thames Hospice up to 1992 follow the link here to a leaflet in PDF format provided to us by the hospice.



Coming soon - A story of Winton House


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