“If you fight and unite your community you can win”
Val and Terry Pearce, members of Save Heatherwood Hospital campaign (SHH) and Bracknell Socialist Party
In 2011, a small group of activists from Ascot. Bracknell and Windsor became seriously concerned that we could lose our local hospital, Heatherwood. We had already seen it lose its A & E status and other cuts to its services were being discussed by the local NHS establishment.
We were further alarmed by a consultation document ‘Shaping the Future’ and proposals to close the minor injuries unit, maternity unit and changes to the rehabilitation ward. So we decided to form a community action group, Save Heatherwood Hospital (SHH).
SHH campaigned relentlessly against the local NHS establishment, Bracknell Forest Council, and local Tory MPs.
We live in an area with no recent history of struggle. The hospital is in Ascot High Street, right opposite the racecourse – blue chip land.
Our first job was to get residents onside, and convince them that we could and would save our hospital. We took our petition around and, after a faltering start, we soon had people signing in droves, ultimately securing about 24,000 names.
We arranged two marches and rallies right through the heart of Ascot, as well as a car cavalcade, street theatre, lobbies, and interviews with local TV and radio.
We fully engaged with the consultation which offered four options, three of which included closing Heatherwood. We won the argument against closure, but they still ignored us.
We suffered some setbacks. We lost the minor injuries unit, which was privatised and moved out of the hospital. The maternity unit and mental health ward were also moved out. It was clear that closure was looming.
However, our campaigning and pressure began to bear fruit. The local hospital trust met with us and agreed that Heatherwood Hospital had a future. Not only was it considering saving the existing hospital, but it wanted to build a new hospital on the same site!
This proposed new hospital didn’t meet all our demands: it would be smaller, with no return of lost services, and no A&E. However, we had travelled a long way: from no hospital at all to a new smaller unit, but a hospital none the less.
The final barrier was planning permission from Windsor and Maidenhead Council. We heard that a planning officer was going to recommend against us, but we mobilised to lobby the planning meeting, which overwhelmingly found in our favour. We celebrated outside Heatherwood Hospital.
After over ten years of campaigning the new hospital has just opened. It’s not a perfect result, and we must be vigilant that we keep this hospital in the NHS, but we have shown that if you fight and unite your community can win.