Meet Carol, one of our Support at Home volunteers. Support at Home is a volunteer-led service at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, which offers practical, emotional and social support to people, their families, loved ones and carers. Carol has been volunteering with the service for just over a year now and currently supports John and his wife Sandra.

Here, Carol shares why her role doesn’t just benefit the patient but also offers ‘care for the carer’ too… 

My Mum was cared for at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice just five years ago now, and after the love and support we were given as a family, I knew that I wanted to give back one day. So when I retired, I decided to give a few hours each week and volunteer for the Support at Home service. Volunteering is fantastic – I enjoy it very much and get a huge satisfaction in helping both the patients and their carers.

With Support at Home, we offer a listening ear and a helping hand to patients in their own homes. But we also play a vital role in supporting carers too. It can be easy to forget how much work and responsibility a carer has – not only are they looking after their loved one but they’re also cooking, cleaning, washing, sorting bills and finances, arranging GP appointments and much more. That’s why this service is so vital. It allows carers to have a break for a couple of hours each week and enjoy some ‘me time’, safe in the knowledge that their loved one is being cared for at home. 

In my role, I visit the lovely John and Sandra for a couple of hours each week. John has Alzheimer’s and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a condition which affects his balance, vision, speech and swallowing. Sandra is his wife but as John’s condition started to progress and he became less independent, they decided that she would give up work and become his full-time carer.

I love visiting John and Sandra each week. They are so welcoming and I feel lucky to have built up a great relationship with them. It takes a lot of trust to allow someone in your home and I feel that over the last year, we’ve developed a great friendship. 

One of my favourite things about my role is being able to give Sandra a break for a few hours each week. It was only last week when I visited, and I was greeted by Sandra who was dressed up in a new outfit and had her hair done nice. She was heading out for lunch with a friend – something she isn’t able to do often – and it was lovely to see her getting a well-deserved break.

I think it’s amazing how two hours each week doesn’t take up much of my time, but those two hours mean so much to people like Sandra. Whilst I can’t change the situation that people are in, it’s comforting to know that I can at least make it that little bit better.

Whilst Sandra is out, I’ll usually make John a cuppa and we’ll either watch TV together or I’ll read to him. John struggles to communicate, so it’s more about keeping him company whilst Sandra enjoys a couple of hours to herself.

Then Sandra will normally come back fifteen minutes before I’m due to leave. I love my little catch ups with Sandra. We tend to just natter about the TV shows we’re watching or talk about what we’ve been up to. But sometimes, those fifteen minute conversations can give a great insight into how Sandra is feeling or if there’s any concerns she’s having – and more importantly, if there any other ways the Hospice can support her and John.  

For example, as John is in a wheelchair, I soon became aware of the struggles Sandra was having in get John up-and-down the steps at the front of their house. So with the support of the Hospice’s Family and Carer Support Team, we were able to arrange a ramp to be installed at their front door. It’s been a huge benefit to Sandra and John and it allows her to get him in and out of the house much more easily and safely. Yet, had she never made that fleeting comment to me, that ramp might never have been installed as we wouldn’t have known how much Sandra was struggling.  

When people ask me why I volunteer for a hospice, they assume it must be sad to work with people who are dying. But I explain that it’s not about dying at all. In fact, it’s about living and that’s the bit I’m interested in – I love helping people to live well.

I also really enjoy being part of the Support at Home team. I get a lot of support to carry out my role and whilst we have regular training, I know I can always pick up the phone to somebody if I ever have any questions. Being part of the Birmingham St Mary’s family makes me feel useful and part of a community. Like I said, volunteering only takes two hours out of my week but it makes such a difference to the people I support.

Thank you Carol for sharing your story with us. If you would like to find out more about Support at Home, please take a look here. Or, if like Carol, you would like to volunteer your time, please email [email protected]. No qualifications or previous care experience is necessary, as all volunteers receive expert training before visiting people.