Valued community support and Community Hospitals League of Friends

We support and share information on communities and League of Friends support of  of community hospitals and hubs throughout the UK.

Please email us with information on any examples where communities are engaged with the planning and development of their community hospital or community hub service that you may wish to share. Also do send any information of where your community is working together to have a voice in the future of its local health and social care. Please feel free to email us with any queries on the role and future of community hospitals, and community engagement that you may have.


Jan Turnbull, the Chair of Friends of Swanage Community Hospital, Dorset reflects on 2020/21

During 2020 three wonderful projects we had financed were completed but we were unable to show them off to the public. For years we had been wanting to build under the ward area of the hospital, create a patient garden and a car park and in 2019 we had got the go-ahead. We feared that work would stop when lockdown hit but, because it was outside the hospital, it was able to continue. It would cost us £1.2 million pounds and resulted in a new conference room, staff room, storage areas and a bed sitting room for relatives of palliative care patients. A lift was installed to allow patients to access the newly created garden and the car park would ease congestion on the roads around the hospital.   At least the hospital staff and patients were able to enjoy the new amenities and finally on 15th September 2021 we held an Open Garden event and people were thrilled by the transformation.

New Staff Room

New Staff Room

Relatives Bed Sitting Room

Relatives Bed Sitting Room

It has been so strange not being able to visit the hospital but we were kept up to date by our Matron and were able to send in treats for staff at various times throughout the years. But seeing the hospital front door locked and an appointment only system for our MIU was difficult to accept, particularly as we learned from the CHA that in other parts of the country walk-in MIUs were actually increasing their opening hours.

But in September we learned that in Dorset the MIUs would remain as an appointment only service permanently. We were horrified and I turned to the CHA for advice and learned that not only was this not happening in other Counties but also the NHS website itself explained how NHS 111 First was for people who were not sure where to go for treatment but you could still walk into an MIU.

In Dorset we have a created a Network of the Chairs of the Friends of our Community Hospitals and we agreed to challenge this proposed permanent change of access. My committee decided we must collect evidence of how people were affected and we emailed our members, posted on the local Facebook page and wrote to the local press. In just a few weeks we received 47 patient stories all of which showed that having to ring 111 and try to make an appointment to go to our MIU was causing distress, anxiety, wasted time before treatment and added to the burden on other providers, particularly A & E.

The evidence was sent to our Trust and meetings were held. I am delighted to report that our hospital front doors are now unlocked and local people are able to walk in once again. We accept that MIU staff will be triaging and if it's safe to wait then some patients may be asked to make appointments to come back. But common sense has prevailed and we sincerely hope that putting the needs of patients first will always be the priority, even in a pandemic.

Relatives Bed Sitting Room

Patients Garden

Now comes the challenge of trying to get some of our lost services back. For example we are told there will be no day surgery any more but hopefully an Endoscopy Service if we fit a new ventilation system in our theatre (yes, we've agreed to pay for it). Outpatient lists are now managed by the Acute hospital, we have some clinics running but far from all of the ones we used to have. It seems the battles are never ending and sadly we have now lost our full time Matron and our part time one has to travel over 45 minutes between her two hospitals and that's in Winter. It can take twice as long in Summer. At a time when leadership is so vital it is another issue we are going to have to tackle whilst all the while wondering how the NHS is going to cope with the changes in management coming next April.

Will the Integrated Care Systems be a good thing for the future of community hospitals? Surely it ought to be with the focus on reorganising services to provide more in the community. We can only hope.

With thanks to Jan for sharing with the CHA members her experiences and the Friends contribution to Swanage Community Hospital.

League of Friends Role and Contribution

Leagues of Friends play an invaluable role in supporting their local community hospitals.  


Volunteers help on a daily basis, such as offering a befriending service, offering transport, helping patients at mealtimes and reading to patients.

Providing Services

Friends provide services in hospitals such as a hospital shop, a tea bar, a library service, and a trolley service.  


Friends organise events such as fetes, coffee morning, fashion shows, carnivals and concerts. Friends also provide an opportunity for local people to subscribe to the Friends, become a member, make a donation, and leave a legacy. 

Financial Contributions

Friends often respond generously to requests from the hospital for items such as equipment, furnishings, and even large projects such as extensions to buildings.  Friends also contribute to staff training and development, such as conference fees and training expenses.  Friends in some cases pay for a hospital to be a member of the CHA. 

Promoting the hospital

The Friends provide information on the hospital to the community through their annual general meetings, newsletters, websites.  Friends often feature in local press coverage, highlighting the work of the hospital and its impact on the community. 

Giving Voice to the community

Leagues of Friends are often called upon to represent the views and wishes of their members, and also reflect those of the wider community. This may be in planning and management discussions.  Friends have carried out surveys of communities, to help to demonstrate the views and preferences of local residents. 

Sharing Good Practice

Leagues of Friends have received awards in the CHA Innovation and Best Practice programme.  These have included  Blandford League of Friends and also Friends of Crowborough which received awards in 2017 and now have national recognition.  The Friends of Honiton and Crowborough spoke in the plenary session of the CHA national conference. The Friends of Blandford and Crowborough held workshops to share their experiences and practices.   Chantel Wilson and Richard Hallett from the Friends of Crowborough Presentation  "The Role of the Friends - Being Creative"


Leagues of Friends, or "Friends" of community hospitals as they are known, were created following the transfer of all voluntary hospitals into the National Health Service in 1948.  When hospitals transferred from local management committees into State ownership, it soon became clear that volunteers and local people still had a role to play.

The British Hospital Association recommended the setting up of Leagues of Friends or similar organisation centred at individual hospitals. In March 1949 a conference was held to which 175 league of friends groups were invited. This led to the formation of the National Association of Leagues of Hospital Friends (NALHF).  As membership to NALFH continued to diversify and grow the name was changed in 2006 to ATTEND - meaning to respond, reach out and to give care.  Leagues of Friends can choose to be members of ATTEND and many, but not all, choose to do so.  Leagues of Friends vary in terms of their organisational status, with a number choosing to register with the Charities commission.   All have the same ethos of supporting their local community and hospital.

The Future

Leagues of Friends continue to be vital to the work of the community hospital. They ensure that the hospital has the most up to date equipment and facilities, and that the staff are well supported and trained. They provide practice support through their services and volunteers.  They listen to what is important to the community and help provide a voice to local people.  Leagues of Friends promote and support the work of their community hospitals.  They can find themselves having a role when significant changes are proposed for their hospital, such as a reduction in service provision or a change in building and location.  Leagues of Friends have always been vital to community hospitals, to link the hospital to the community and to enable the hospital to function as effectively as possible. There is every sign that this important relationship and role will continue to be needed.

There are challenges facing Leagues of Friends. In some areas, there are difficulties in recruiting to committees, and in particular to have a representation from all ages from the community.  There are an increasing number of fundraising activities from different charities and voluntary organisations in communities.  The changing ownership of some community hospitals has seen some of them being run by the private sector. The CHA are regularly contacted by Friends organisations asking for advice and support, and we will continue to assist where we can. 

Friends and the CHA

The CHA benefits enormously from having a Director on the Board from a Friends organisation.  Richard Hallett is from the Friends of Crowborough Hospital. He is also the Treasurer of the CHA. 

The CHA will continue to support Friends of Community Hospitals, and welcome their membership, their attendance at conferences, and their participation in the wider activities of the CHA.