My visit to Maggie's Centre at Barts

It was an absolute pleasure to visit the Maggie’s Centre located at Barts for the first time since I attended its opening almost a year ago and to see it up and running, as well as meeting again with Laura Lee, Maggie’s Chief Executive and champion. I remember first visiting Maggie’s at Charing Cross Hospital almost six years ago and being struck by the calm and relaxed feel to the Centre, not to mention the absence of any sort of clinical environment, which can sometimes create a sense of discomfort for patients. As such it was a delight to see the replication of such a warm and welcoming environment at Barts.

The first Maggie’s Centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996 after cancer sufferer, Maggie Keswick Jencks, noted the shortcomings of the environment in which patients have to discuss difficult and sometimes life-threatening problems with medical staff. Along with her husband, architectural writer, Charles Jencks, Maggie believed in the ability of buildings to uplift people and began raising money to fund inspiring buildings from which cancer sufferers could receive advice and support.  

Maggie’s is a great beneficiary of volunteer and charity support, both in monetary terms from organisations such as the People’s Postcode Lottery who have provided nearly £12m of support, but also in terms of those giving up their time to get involved with the work of the Centre. Indeed on my visit there was a yoga class underway, to be followed by a mindfulness class. Such programs underline the way in which Maggie’s is designed to support the physical and, importantly, mental wellbeing of its patients.

Getting the new Centre built at Barts was not the most straightforward of processes and I long championed the project and Barts more broadly as the plans developed and construction got underway. With such a modern development cheek-by-jowl to some of the oldest surviving structures in the City (such as the St Bartholomew-the-less church, parts of which date back to the 15th century) there were understandably some reservations about the nature of construction work. The results of the project, however, are outstanding and whilst the building is a very open and fresh environment, it does not feel out of keeping with its neighbours. There is a broad consensus that the development and opening of the Centre only serves to compliment the leading oncology services provided by Barts.

I remember when I first became MP for the Cities of London and Westminster over 17 years ago that questions were being asked about the future of Barts, and there were indeed strong concerns about its long term viability. Now, everyone connected to Barts should take great pride and pleasure in seeing how it has transformed into a centre of national and international excellence, particularly in cardiac and cancer care, treating those to the north and east of London, as well as residents and workers in the City. In Maggie’s case, they have people dropping in from as far afield as Scotland as they relax after visiting Barts.

At over 900 years old, it is clear there is still plenty for Barts to offer and innovative projects such as Maggie’s are a fantastic way for the site to evolve in the coming years. There always seems to be a new development underway whenever I visit, something that can only bode well for the future.