When it opened its doors to the first patients in 1907, Benenden Sanatorium, as it was then called, was filled with long term TB patients who spent months and often years at the hospital. A group of them formed a social circle to organise entertainment and events and set up a magazine full of news about the hospital, written and produced by the patients, and this was called the Rising Mercury. It was apparently a sign of recovery when the mercury in the doctor’s thermometer began to rise. Eventually both the social circle and the magazine died out as the changing nature of treatment meant that patients spent less and less time in hospital.
In 1950, two former hospital patients, Bill Hollingshead and George Eastham resurrected the name when they founded the RM Society as a way for Benenden ex-patients to keep in touch and show their support and appreciation of the hospital.
The RM has evolved over the years and celebrated its Diamond Anniversary in 2011. Originally using the strap line “Benenden Ex-Patients”, it rebranded itself to “Supporters of Benenden Hospital” in 2005 and was successful in being granted charitable status in its own right in 2006, thus enabling anyone who wishes to support the work of Benenden Hospital to join the RM.
The RM currently has around 1000 subscribing members and they each receive a Newsletter twice a year, containing both updates on developments at the hospital and news of RM activities. The RM aims to keep running costs to a minimum so that donations which members generously add to their subscriptions at renewal each year can be passed on to the hospital. RM funds are boosted by a number of fund raising initiatives throughout the year and this has enabled us to make regular donations of up to £20,000 each year to the hospital in recent years. Whilst monies donated in the past were used to purchase specific objects of equipment, for many years now our donations have been used primarily for projects that enhance the patient experience when visiting the hospital, rather than essential medical or surgical equipment. The Hospital has recently used accumulated RM donations from the last few years to fund the creation and installation of the Heritage Wall - digital screens in the main atrium which provide moving images from the surrounding estate and museum. These monies have also funded a number of photographic pictures which are displayed on the walls of the clinical areas, including the wards and theatres, of various artifacts from the museum, together with the vinyl display screens in the new eye unit.
Members are invited to the AGM which is held at the hospital each year, usually at the end of April. Speakers from the hospital provide for an interesting day out, with further entertainment by way of a raffle and the opportunity to purchase plants from the nursery, cakes and other home produce and gifts from other stalls. A buffet lunch is available and if the weather is fine, the grounds and gardens provide further enjoyment on the day. From time to time, committee members visit the Hospital where they are available to provide information to patients and visitors and host regular fundraising events throughout the year. Two or three committee members usually attend Benenden conferences hosting an information stall.