GREAT Oaks Hospice staff have praised the efforts of "very special" chief executive Ruth Keeble who retired last week after five years with the organisation.

Colleagues gathered at the hospice last Wednesday (October 27) to thank Ruth, who grew up in Pillowell and trained as a nurse in Bristol, for her contribution to the Coleford hospice, which provides supportive end of life care for local people.

In an emotional tribute to Ruth, Great Oaks founder Sheila Evans, said: "We are here to thank you for your huge commitment to Great Oaks and your many achievements during your time here.

"When you joined us, it was a complex task but you took a firm hold, developing the service and enabling the best care for our patients, their families and friends.

"Rules and regulations changed dramatically to ensure the vital protection of staff, volunteers and our vulnerable patients. All this while giving as much help as possible to those who needed it most.

"Fund-raising and shops went on hold, income was reduced but through your persistence and tenacity you raised our profile to a much wider audience which brought in further funding.

"As you leave Great Oaks, it is in good shape financially and domestically."

Trustee Chris Hawkins also praised Ruth for her work in steering the hospice through the "stormy period" that was the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: "An organisation like this needs very special people and we are fortunate to have a marvellous team.

"To manage that team and make sure we bring our unique and much-needed services to the community, you need a very, very special person at the top.

"Not only have you got to make sure that all those hard-working, committed people have all the resources, physical as well as emotional are there for them.

"You have to maintain relationships with various statutory organisations and the local community at large - all of which is a tremendous job for one person.

"You came to us five years ago and had a very hard act to follow.

"You were going really strongly and something happened which none of us could have anticipated, Covid, which has knocked a lot of organisations sideways.

"It did us a bit but I think Ruth has steered a passage through what was a stormy period and I think we’ve come out stronger than we went in.

"Thank you for the last five years and the massive contribution you have made to this organisation."

Ruth said: "I am so proud of all of you - you’ve done an amazing job.

"Eighteen months ago I said I would do my best to look after the organisation and we’ve come through and I’m really proud of what you do."

She also welcomed the arrival of new Great Oaks chief executive John Aizlewood, who is joining the organisation from St Margaret’s Hospice in Taunton.

"I’m really pleased that I’m handing it to John who is a massive pair of safe hands", she continued.

"He has so much in knowledge and skills - he will really take this organisation forward."