We are very pleased to announce that Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity is joining forces with Friends of Royal Brompton, to help The Friends secure their legacy.

Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity will continue to make grants on behalf of Friends of Royal Brompton and will fund projects that are in the spirit of those that The Friends have funded in the past.

This joining of forces is a significant event in the history of both charities. To find out more about Friends of Royal Brompton and their history, we sat down with Elizabeth Henderson, Charity Director of Friends of Royal Brompton, to talk over the charity and its legacy.

Elizabeth has worked for The Friends for over 24 years. “Once you join an organisation like this, you become part of it. I couldn't just walk away because this had become very personal,” she said. The Friends has changed a lot in that time.

When I first joined there was a table and an old telephone and a piece of paper and a pencil, and that was it. I said: ‘I think we're going to need a computer.’

The Friends are a member-based charity. The volunteers keep the charity going. For many it has become more than just a way to give back to the hospitals. “People feel a sense of ownership,” Elizabeth said. “Lots of people have found their best friends by volunteering with us, which they wouldn't have met in any other circumstances.” She added that some people kept volunteering into their 90s and volunteering has spanned multiple generations in some families.

Friends of Royal Brompton has been running since 1963.

We were the only charity helping the hospital in those days. The volunteers used to make the shrouds, the curtains, drive people to hospital appointments.

The Friends also ran the Fulham Road kiosk shop and the Sydney Street flower and book shop with trolley services running to the wards in both buildings. There was only one part time employee, everyone else was a volunteer.

Over the decades The Friends have supported many innovative projects at Royal Brompton. “Our members like the fact we do exciting things,” Elizabeth said. “We like to do new projects that are ground breaking. Ones we felt no one else was going to do. If we initiated the first year of something or the first payment, people will then look and say ‘if the Friends can do it and it's become successful, we should do the next year?’”

Some of the projects supported include the first robotic surgery and the initial investment of over £100,000 in the Simulated InterProfessional Team Training (SPRinT). The SPRinT programme involves embedded in-situ simulation with the use of mannequins to increase the awareness of the management of critical incidents. The original mannequin was named after two of The Friends’ generous donors. Elizabeth said: “We are very proud that the SPRinT programme has become incredibly successful in delivering education and training in patient safety.”

More recently, The Friends were involved with making gowns for Royal Brompton Hospital during the first Covid-19 lockdown. "We spent 12 weeks making gowns and we made 30,000 for the hospital,” Elizabeth said. This was a project that involved volunteers and the London College of Fashion.

It brought people to us that wouldn't have come to us in any other way, because people had time on their hands. So, when the call went out for people who could help with gowns, people came from all walks of life. We had dental surgeons, stylists, we had students, we had architects, we had every type of person, age, gender, all in one building, but on different floors, all socially distanced, all making gowns.

The Friends decided to make Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity their new home because we have similar aims, to help heart and lung patients, and it makes economic sense to combine our resources. By joining forces, we can help more heart and lung patients and secure the amazing legacy of the work The Friends have done over the years.

When asked what her favourite memory of Friends of Royal Brompton is, Elizabeth said: “All the people.” She added that she loved the chance to meet people from different generations in London and different walks of life. “It’s a proper community charity.”

Elizabeth said that it is incredible that The Friends have been going this long and have kept evolving. This new home for The Friends is the next part of that evolution.

Elizabeth said that the legacy of The Friends will be how people came together in the past to help Royal Brompton Hospital. “Bear in mind the technology in those days. There were no mobile phones, there were no answer machines, so the person who was running the charity was going to have to ring up volunteers and committee members and type out all of the minutes on a typewriter. It was so much more hard work.”

Everyone at Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity salutes the amazing work of Friends of Royal Brompton. We are very pleased to be joining forces so that together we can have a bigger impact in the fight against heart and lung disease.

For more details, please contact Elizabeth Henderson from Friends of Royal Brompton on [email protected] or keep an eye on Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity’s website and social media accounts.