Yes, I know – it hardly sounds like a programme. A day at the hospital invokes images of drab, sterile interiors, grey, featureless buildings surrounded by large, monotonous car parks. Not in Cirencester. If you are unlucky enough to have twisted an ankle while dismounting from your horse at the Sunday polo or slipped outside Waitrose on a rainy day, you can count on a welcoming, comforting and yes, picturesque environment at the local hospital.
I became an assiduous visitor when my kids were little; as a new parent, I was a little over-anxious and needed regular reassuring from the medical experts that my kids were behaving normally, even when they exhibited what I interpreted as near-death symptoms. We took many a trip to Cirencester hospital and were met, every time, with helpful staff and delightful facilities. Now that they are teenagers, I am past seeking reassurance on their normality and keener on checking on my own remaining sanity.
And so for years, we never went, only ever driving past it, barely giving it a glance, much less any brain time.
And then, just the other day – and entirely out of the blue – I had cause to be reminded of what a gem our local hospital is. My teenage son contrived to acquire yet another sports injury (and they say sports are good for you), injuring his foot while playing football. (That’s what he told the school nurse, anyway.) So there we were, my daughter and I, maladroitly but enthusiastically carrying him through the doors to the minor injuries unit, where we were mercifully relieved of our porter duties thanks to the prompt delivery of a wheelchair. Cue the embarrassing display of wheelchair driving skills – seriously, it’s not as easy as it looks – as we negotiated the narrow, twisting corridor to the waiting area. Here we were finally able to relax and enjoy the views out of the large bay windows onto the beautiful landscaped gardens, and admire the other hospital wing facing us: a beautiful Victorian manor house.
Cirencester hospital is set on a hilltop, in a central position in the town. The manor house we spent those couple of hours admiring is actually Querns House, a grade II listed building, built in 1825 in the Tudor style. Being a converted manor house and a period building, it features the traditional mellow Cotswold stone (now pleasingly mottled with lichen), church-style windows, and rolling landscaped gardens. There’s even an internal garden that you can enjoy through the glass panels lining the corridors around it.
Being a market town hospital, it exists on a smaller scale than other, more modern hospitals and as such appears less forbidding and more human in scale. It has little charming traits: take the tiny shop that sells refreshments (sandwiches, pens, toys and a therapeutic cup of tea), run by a sweet elderly lady, the sort who could easily feature in a children’s storybook as the archetypal spoiling grandmother. We have made several attempts to adopt her during our visits to the hospital – yes, she’s been there a while – but it turns out she has enough grandchildren already. Such a pity.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I enjoyed my ante-natal appointments there and was really saddened to learn the maternity ward had been just closed; what a serene place it would have been to enjoy the miracle of motherhood! (Although, with hindsight, the screams accompanying childbirth might have spoiled the relaxed atmosphere of the place.)
Fortunately, while the maternity unit is no more, other units remained – and remain – open, though the shadow of closure seems to have hung over the place for some time. Every few months, rumours seems to surface about a potential closure of this cherished establishment; happily, this has not happened yet, even if there has been some down-scaling of services. We need our hospital to survive; it serves a large network of surrounding villages as well as Cirencester itself, and offers prompt assistance for injuries that need attending to as a matter of urgency and would otherwise require a long trip to Gloucester on a busy dual carriageway.
So as a call to action, I urge you to support our local hospital, keep an eye on its status and voice your appreciation for it. Be more adventurous and incur the odd sprain, dislocation or break. My son – collar bone fracture and this latest sprain – should be an example to us all. His self-sacrifices on the playing fields of Deer Park have been our family’s contribution to keeping it in business! If there is to be a silver lining to the new, extensive housing construction planned for our town, it ought to be that it justifies better facilities for our community and more investment in this undervalued town institution. One can hope.