The vital work that keeps a busy hospital running

Over the span of 70 years the League of Friends of the King’s Lynn Area Hospitals has raised millions of pounds for local hospitals, and they’re showing no signs of stopping any time soon

Many hospitals in the UK struggle to operate smoothly due to an unfortunate lack of funding and qualified staff. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn is lucky to have assistance from an inspiring charity, who do their utmost to cover costs of new equipment - but they too need support from the public. 

Penny Hipkin has been a member of the League of Friends for nearly 20 years and has served as Chairman since 2018, ably supported by the League’s Honorary Secretary, Carol Crake. It’s a role that is incredibly important to her due to her strong connection to the hospital.

“Before I retired I was a Sister in the Intensive Care Unit,” she says. “I was responsible for looking after my staff as well as the patients, and every day brought a new challenge. Working there made it clear how much we relied on donations and funding to get what was sometimes just basic equipment.” 

It took no time at all for Penny to join the League, a passionate charity founded in 1953 by a small group of volunteers. Its purpose was to raise money for equipment and amenities to benefit both the staff and patients of the nearby hospitals. 

In its first year the charity raised £507 for two television sets and a trolley shop for the Hardwick Hospital. It even gave £50 to St. James’ Hospital for its sweets and tobacco fund, which perhaps wouldn’t quite suit a healthcare environment these days.

Pictures: The organisation's much-loved hospital shop opened in 1980 along with the QEH (above). The dedicated volunteers including Penny Hipkin (second from front) from the League of Friends charity, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this July (below).

It’s so rewarding to be able to give back and fund things that make life easier for the QEH...

Since these humble beginnings, the League’s achievements have skyrocketed. The charity’s recent purchases up to 2023 (their 70th anniversary) exceeded the astounding figure of £200,000. Their fundraising pays for a variety of crucial items such as wheelchairs, ultrasound machines, defibrillators and training equipment for nurses.

“One project I’m excited to see implemented is music therapy sessions for dementia patients,” says Penny. “As someone who knows people struggling with dementia, I understand how important music is to them, so I can’t wait for this to come into use. It’s going to be really beneficial.”

The League has also paid the £4000 design consultancy fee for a dementia-friendly garden in the West Dereham Ward, which will be a tranquil space for patients and family members to relax and interact with nature.

Ways to fund these projects have dwindled in the past years, primarily because of Covid-19. However loyal supporters of the charity have ensured it can continue its important work.

“Every now and then we are lucky to receive large donations that go a long way in helping the hospital,” Penny explains. “We’ve also received gifts left to us by our supporters in their wills. We were able to fund a new Radiology Information System because someone left us the legacy of their entire estate, which amounted to £400,000.”

Gifts such as these show how important the hospital and the charity have been to a lot of people. When the QEH opened in 1980, the League of Friends shop opened with it, providing another key source of funding and a new way for people to help the charity.

“The shop is currently our biggest earner,” says Penny. “It’s open every day and is staffed entirely by dedicated volunteers, who do a fantastic job of serving staff, patients, and visitors. We’re very close to hitting a net income of £100,000 which is brilliant, particularly as the shop was closed during the pandemic.”

Above: A mobile trolley shop tended by Marion, a volunteer who supported the League for almost 40 years.

As a charity, the League of Friends relies heavily on volunteers and members - not only to keep themselves afloat, but also to continue supporting the hospital as well. Being a member requires nothing more than a yearly minimum fee of £5.

“Lots of people are very generous and give us more than that,” Penny remarks. “This year we received a donation from King Charles, and we’ve welcomed contributions from Queen Elizabeth II in previous years. Any amount is gratefully received, even if it’s just spare change given in the shop.”

Volunteers are always welcome at the League of Friends shop to ensure that it can stay open every day and provide a much-needed service for everyone. Having a place where doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, maintenance staff, construction workers, patients and visitors can grab a quick bite to eat is essential for such a busy and demanding environment - and the shop has steadfastly supported them for over 40 years.

“Our patron and President of the League, Viscountess Valeria Coke has been a fantastic help to us, and she and I both share a love for the community that has been so supportive to the charity,” says Penny. “It’s so rewarding to be able to give back and fund things that make life easier for the QEH.”

This July marks their 70th anniversary, which coincides with the NHS’s 75 years of service. Penny and her hard-working Committee hope to hold a party in the hospital to celebrate the incredible achievements of the League of Friends, and to toast the many years to come.

For more information on how to become a member of the League, email Penny at or visit the shop in the QEH.

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