Part of the furniture?

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Eddie Potter, maintenance supervisor at the Rye, Winchelsea & District Memorial Hospital.

On a recent tour of the newly completed Hub on Rye Hill, I bumped into a local character and fount of all knowledge, Eddie Potter, the maintenance supervisor at the Rye, Winchelsea and District Memorial Hospital.

And, if you need to know anything about the Hub, the hospital, or St Bartholomew’s Court, Eddie should know, after all he has had a connection with this ‘site’ for over 45 years and worked there for over 21 years, but – having reached 65 – retirement has reduced his working role to 3 days a week.

A true local, Eddie has three children, two of which still live in Rye, while his eldest is in Hastings. Most locals know his youngest son, Ian Potter, a town councillor and past mayor.

During Eddie’s tenure he has seen huge changes to the hospital and its grounds, which are supported by local trusted trades and contractors. There is now a GPs’ surgery on site, St Bartholomew’s Court has increased from 32 to 54 units of sheltered housing, and the hospital has had a kitchen added along with the reception and outpatients departments having been refurbished, not to mention the new Hub, a community well being centre. Services are now being laid in readiness for the nursing home which will complete the jigsaw.

St Bartholomew’s Court.

I was interested to hear Eddie’s life story and in his own words, curtailed and edited for this article, he wrote the following:

“My first recollection of Rye Hospital was when working for a company that re-laid the road leading to Leasam Farm agricultural college. While spending several weeks in Leasam Lane I remember meeting Mr Parker, an ambulanceman at the Rye Ambulance Station next to Rye Hospital. We would speak quite often as my uncle was also an ambulanceman in Boston, Lincolnshire so there was always something to talk about. After finishing work on the lane we moved on.

“Several years later I had changed jobs and started a new chapter of my life working for the NHS based at St Helen’s Hospital in Ore, Hastings. A friend had told me about the job as we had both been made redundant. I had taken a store manager’s job at a small supermarket, but was not happy working inside. I started on the Monday at St Helen’s Hospital and by 10:30am I had  started my first job at Rye Hospital.

“My cousin Chris and his wife June were able to buy their first house and the taxi business he worked for from the owner and they were working all hours to keep the two cars going, so his brother and I would drive the private hire car in the evenings to allow them time off and he encouraged me to take my Hackney Carriage licence so the second car could work on the taxi rank. My marriage had broken down and I was doing anything to keep busy, so one night a week became three.

A blind date was arranged

“A blind date was arranged by staff from Rye Hospital, and the date was a Friday night at the Christmas party at St Helen’s Social club. However, I was driving that night but after dropping off my fare I was there ready and waiting, as they knew I was working and only had an hour, and at 9:20pm I was introduced to Gill who worked at Rye Hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Well, I brought her a drink and the next day we had dinner at the William the Conqueror in Iden and it wasn’t long before I was introduced to her parents. Well, what a surprise, when we turned into Leasam Lane and into her parent’s house, there was the ambulanceman I met when working on the road and to then realise that Gill was one of the school girls the lads whistled at and chatted to.

“I moved to Rye and we married in 1983. Gill was still nursing at Rye but in the NHS there were big changes and hospitals were being closed. Gill moved to the Royal East Sussex Hospital, Hastings in the Outpatients department, but the clinic would always over-run and sometimes she would not get home till nearly 7pm.

“She got a job with social services at the day centre in Rye and by now Rye Hospital (which had by then been closed) was well on the way to being re-opened by the charity after receiving overwhelming local support.

Cuts sweep health and social services

“St Helen’s and the Royal East Sussex Hospitals had closed and I was working at the new Conquest Hospital known as the DGH. I had now been working for 21 years with the NHS, but things were not going well with the new management, when I saw the advert for the post at Rye Hospital, and I was offered the job and started work at Rye Hospital in 1999.

“Social services started their cuts and they shut Magdala day centre, and Gill was moved to the day centre at Rye Hospital which then meant we were both under the same roof where we had first met. Social services then shut Rye’s day centre and Gill was moved to Hastings at a time when the ambulance service was also closing their stations and centralising them.

“This meant the ambulance site would be up for sale, which was then able to be purchased for a new day centre – the Hub. Around this time Gill fell ill, diagnosed with a brain tumour and admitted into Rye Hospital, and nursed by her friends and colleagues where she died in January 2013.

“When I started at Rye Hospital, my manager and company secretary Tony Pickett said, “always look after the community nurses as you never know when you will need them”. How true his words were as Tony fell ill and did need their help, but sadly he passed away last year.

More services arrive to support community 

“Me, well after losing Gill I too have found love again and with a community nurse who like me lost her partner and we got married in May 2017. I think of Tony every day and his words, as after meeting Hazel I myself have gone through having two hip replacements and cancer treatment and she has been my personal community nurse.

“Well here we are 21 years on from starting here at Rye. Our chairman asked me to stay on when I reached 65 to see the new centre built, but none of us thought it would be three years. Last week I received the keys on behalf of the charity for what is now known as the Hub on Rye Hill, a centre for well being for the community.

“Who would have thought I would have had such a personal connection with this Hospital and its site for over 45 years from when working in Leasam Lane and falling asleep in the Hospital boiler room. I am now starting my semi-retirement working three 6 hour days a week, but hopefully look forward to seeing the start of the final piece of the jigsaw start, the nursing home.”

The finished Hub on Rye Hill, the penultimate piece of a large local jigsaw.

Image Credits: Nick Forman , Sanctuary Retirement Living .

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