Our Inspiration Anne Belchamber

Anne Belchamber

Our Inspiration Anne Belchamber

Anne Belchamber is inspiration behind the Dementia Journeys website, the mother to my sisters and I as well as a Gran and Great Gran.

Mum ended her Dementia Journey on 31st January 2013. It was a journey that spanned many years and two hemispheres with her family in the UK and Australia. Each one of Mum’s family and friends took their own Dementia Journey with her. Not one of those journeys was the same, each had their own twists and turns, highs and lows. Something that these journeys with Mum had in common (even through the tears) was smiles, love and laughter. This was Mum’s gift and her legacy to us all –  and it’s the philosophy that underpins this website.

Our Mum By My Sister Julie

Written by my sister Julie Line for the celebration of Mum’s life in February 2013.

Anne was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne. She lived with her Gran until she was 10, then moved to Bury St Edmunds. The children there thought she was a German because of her accent. Was that why she insisted we talked without one?

She then moved with her family to Germany & went to Army boarding school until she was 17. Full of mischief, she got into trouble for hoisting the games teacher’s knickers up the flag pole!

When Anne left school she travelled alone back to England to Weybridge Cottage Hospital to work for a year before beginning training at Royal Free in London at 18. It was while at Weybridge she met John and they married in 1956 a year before she finished her training. She had to face a very stern matron to ask for permission to marry as this was frowned upon. They married on a Wednesday as it was half day closing in the shop!

Anne and John worked in the family bakery and catering business and had 3 children, Julie, Annie and John. We go for original names in our family! They only took 2 weeks off per year to go on a family holiday, driving to Spain or Portugal long before the days of a package tour. Sometimes four adults and 5 children would be loaded into a Cortina Estate with the luggage strapped to the roof. This was long before the days of car seats and Sat Navs but they seemed to find their way there safely. Family holidays were one of the highlights of Anne’s life. Often accompanied by other family members or their dear friends Daph and Curly.

In 1972 ,when in their mid 30’s, John saw an ad in a paper for a house in Woolacombe, a place they had never heard of. They bravely sold the family business in Surrey and moved, not knowing what they would do only that it would be a better life in a beautiful place. This spirit of adventure has been passed to her children and grandchildren.

Overcliff became a guest house, where Anne worked from 7am to 9 preparing breakfasts, went off to continue the day as a district nurse, then returned to cook a 5 course meal for the guests topped off by a shift at Morteat their takeaway food business, returning after midnight. No wonder holidays were so important!

It was also the place for wonderful Christmases with 20 or more of the family arriving on 23rd and staying until New Years Day. As is the common theme in our lives much good food was eaten, wine drunk, songs sung, and late nights spent talking and laughing and just all being together. Times treasured by Anne’ Neices and Nephews and talked about to this day.

Things slowed down a little when they moved house and Anne joined North Devon Hospice Care as one of their first 2 nurses. In the days long before Nurse Practitioners Anne would have to battle with Doctors who couldn’t accept that a nurse could be an expert in her field. All her patients had her home phone number and were told to ring any time of day or night if they needed her. She went on to manage the team in North Devon and made such a difference to the lives of so many. Her colleagues will tell of her wisdom, kindness, sense of fun and loyal care.

Anne’s world fell apart in 1991 when John was himself diagnosed with cancer. They moved to Exeter to be nearer the main hospital and Anne continued to work with the Exeter team based in Ottery St Mary. She was now the hospice nurse looking after her own husband and family and to use a family phrase it was “Keeping her work head on” that helped get her through this time, supported by her colleagues.

John died in 1994 which rocked all our lives. It was then that she threw herself into her new role as Gran Anne or Badger to all her grandchildren and the surrogate grandchildren who adopted her as their own. Her grandchildren each have their own special memories of Gran as you will see in the order of service. They really were her world and her reason for living.

After a heart attack she stopped work and was then able to spend a few years of eternal Summers with half the year in England and the other in Australia. What adventures she had and what love she could share. In Sydney and Brisbane, on the other side of the world, there are people who will always have memories of the love and laughter they shared. Here, fellow Piscean and Special Lady, Jo was her “Daughter in Oz” whom she loved as much as her English ones , and probably gave her less trouble!

Anne’s friends continued to encourage her sense of adventure and mischief. They had holidays and days out where she could be away from her family and let her hair down. Her annual trips to London to The National Theatre with Dorothy and the week at the Ways With Words Festival were highlights in her English calendar.

In 2002 Anne decided to base herself in Frome to be near Julie, JG and their family when she wasn’t in Australia. She quickly became a hit with the Henley Way crew with her famous bacon sandwiches, willingness to tidy after them and to cover for them when Julie was around! In return we could always be sure that when her memory started to fail and she was on a wander around the town there would be someone who knew her to make sure she was safe, happy and able to get home.

It was this support, and the care of her girls from Somerset Care at Home that meant she could keep her independence for as long as possible. Anne always turned the table on the carers making sure they had their cup of tea and checking they had eaten properly on their rounds. She found a special place in their hearts during their busy shifts.

Eventually Anne needed more care than we could manage at home. This is a time that every family dreads. Luckily we found Critchill Court which was to become her home for almost 3 years. As Anne’s dementia took its final hold the staff at Critchill made sure her days were happy and filled with love. They supported the family through this time and we had lots of happy, fun and laughter filled days with their Mrs Giggles. To everyone at this special place we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being the amazing people that you are and for loving Anne as your own.

The story of Anne’s life is not complete without recognising the next generation of little people who now see her as the brightest star in the sky – even brighter than the North Star isn’t that right Jacob? They brought love and cuddles and lots of kisses on every visit.

On her last day Anne was dressed in her red dress ready to “Rock Up In Red” for the British Heart Foundation Coffee Morning. Despite this devastating illness she was living life right up to her very last breath.

Whether we are Anne’s children, their partners, her Grandchildren, Great Grandchildren, Nieces, Nephews, Friends, Colleagues or Carers we have the same thing in common. We are here today because we loved and admired Anne Belchamber. An unusual name for an extraordinary lady.


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