Heather Kennedy worked at Strathmartine Hospital as a staff nurse for over 30 years. Today, she reflects on her life at the former health facility – and tells the Tele what her hopes are for the future of the hospital.
Beginning her life at Strathmartine as a governess in the hospital’s school in 1976, Heather taught children from age five, helping them with subjects such as writing and music.
She then went on to become a charge nurse during her later years at the institution, working there for 34 years before leaving in 2009.
Her role meant she would be in charge of a ward, dealing with patients, sorting medications and taking doctor’s notes.
Working in the hospital runs in Heather’s family with her father, several cousins, her brother and her two sons also having been employed at the facility over the years.
“It was a whole kind of family gambit,” she says.
“In the ’80s there were over 600 patients that lived there from babies and very small children to elderly patients.
“There were patients that had lived there for 60 to 70 years with varying degrees of disabilities.
“It was a little hub. Everything they kind of needed was there for them. Pictures on a Tuesday night, Church on a Sunday. Bands would come in and play for the patients. It was really good. Christmas Day was amazing – Father Christmas would come round.
“They had a rec hall for dancing for the patients and a sweet shop. There was also a swimming pool – a very shallow pool – and people could take lessons. It was a friendly place to be for the patients.
“We were able to take them on bus runs. Some of them went on holidays and we would take them to different restaurants.”
Twice a year the patients went on a mini-break to Little Cairnie Hospital in Arbroath.
They’d go to the countryside and enjoy an ice cream or fish and chips – something Heather says would not be done now as there would not be enough staff to look after all the patients.
With over 600 patients across the hospital, some wards had up to 50 people in them at a time -and the patients became close with one another.
Heather said: “When you think, some of the wards had 25 patients who had to live together and get on together very closely. It couldn’t have been easy for them, but they got on with it. They enjoyed the friendships they had there.”
Heather adds some of the patients even worked, with the boys working on the nearby farm and the females helping out the nurses, by making up the beds and working in the sewing room and laundry.
Some would also make garden ornaments and Christmas cards.
Over the years the site has become increasingly prone to vandalism and fire-raising, with both adults and children spotted wandering the grounds.
Speaking about the future of the buildings and surrounding areas, Heather said: “There are people in every single night. If something isn’t done soon there will be an accident. Unless there is permanent security then accidents will always happen.
“I feel it has got such a reputation and its derelict, so kids want to go up there.
“They want to see what really happened up there. It’s a really spooky site – all the wards are completely trashed.”
Earlier this week we told you the story of Gaynor Robertson and her renewed plea for Strathmartine Hospital to be demolished.
Gaynor’s 13-year-old son, Jonathan, died after falling 30 feet from the walls of derelict Baldovan House in 2002. In the months following his death, Gaynor successfully campaigned to have the ruined 18th Century farm house demolished.
She then turned her attention to Strathmartine Hospital, which closed its doors in 2003, and called for the demolition of the former health facility to prevent a similar tragedy happening.
Speaking about the article, Heather said: “I’m friendly with Karen (McAulay – a campaigner working to save the listed buildings at Strathmartine) and I can see her point of wanting to maintain the heritage, especially with the main building.
“I can also see Jonathan’s mum’s side of the story. That could have been my son, he was the same age as Jonathan and was in his class.
“If something isn’t done to secure the hospital it will happen again.
“I live near the hospital and it’s easy for me to see when there is a fire. It feels like a big part of Dundee history because it was a very innovative thing that the Ogilvie’s did, for the orphanage and disabled learning at that particular time.
“But who knows what will happen if they don’t get some sort of decent security in there? The fires will continue until somebody dies.”
Heather believes that if the site were to vanish completely, it would be like the hospital never existed and the patients never mattered. She is keen to see an element of the former health facility kept, as it was there for over 100 years.
“I would like to see some part of the main building established again. The rest of the wards which were built in the ’50s and ’60s are an eyesore,” she added.
Over the years, Heather has kept in touch with former patients and, when she moved from the hospital 11 years ago to work at Age Concern, she met a number of them through their services.
“Life goes on but it was sad when it closed. I loved my time there, I loved working there, it was amazing.
“If I didn’t have to leave through ill health I would have continued for another five years. The hospital took up my whole life, from age 16-50.”