For Hospice Care Week this year, we’re sharing the amazing stories behind ‘What It Takes’ to deliver our vital services, as well as ‘What It Gives’ to the people who use them. 

In this blog, we look at the incredible work of our Support at Home volunteers and discover how their generous time is helping to combat social isolation for patients and their carers… 

Polly’s story

“I think Support at Home is an amazing service. It’s a volunteer-led befriending service to help people feel less isolated when they’ve been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. So in my role, I will visit a patient in their home and spend a couple of hours with them each week, giving them social, emotional and practical support.

What’s also great about this service is that it gives the patient’s carer – who is normally their partner or a family member – a break for a couple of hours too. Often we can forget that a life-limiting diagnosis doesn’t just affect the patient, it can affect a lot of people in their close network. So I think it’s really important that we offer a service which benefits carers too.

When I first get to the patient’s house, the carer is normally getting last minute things done before they head off. Then once they leave, I’ll sit with the patient and we just talk. We’ll talk about everything and anything – from the weather to their family, from how they’re feeling to things they might not want to talk about with their loved one because they don’t want to upset them. It’s nice to be able to give someone a safe space where they can talk so openly and honestly.

Allowing patients to talk in a confidential space and giving carers that much-needed respite is really good to see. It feels good to know that I’m having a positive impact on others. But volunteering in this role doesn’t just benefit them, it helps me too. Because I’ve experienced loss myself, supporting others is a healing process for me. It gives you strength knowing that people are receiving the support they need at a time like this because I know how vital that helping hand can be.”

Sandra and John’s story

“It was in 2013 when my husband John was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and then later Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a condition which affects his balance, vision, speech and swallowing. Ever since his diagnosis, John and I both agreed that we wanted him to stay at home and so we decided that I would become his full-time carer.

I therefore spend most of my time being with and looking after John. I was more than happy to take on this role but with Birmingham St Mary’s support, they’ve made it just that little bit easier. Once a week, Carol – my Support at Home volunteer – will come round to visit us and she has become a lifeline to us both.

Carol will visit us every week for a couple of hours and as soon as she’s through the door she’ll say hello to John, hello to me, and then tells me to pop out and enjoy myself. It’s so lovely to have a few hours to myself and enjoy that bit of ‘me’ time. More often than not, I’ll just pop to the shops or meet up with friends for lunch but it’s comforting to know that my husband is safe at home and being cared for by someone we both trust. When you care for someone full-time, it can be tough to get the little things done – even if it’s just picking up some food or winding down with a coffee – and so I’m so grateful to now have time to do these things.

Carol is also someone I can talk to – whether it’s having a good natter about what we’ve watched on the telly or chatting through any concerns or worries I might have. She’s my direct link with the Hospice and thanks to her, she’s helped to sort out some vital things.

Before Carol came along, there were times when I felt like I needed somebody to hold my hand and help me through the tough days. Being a carer can be lonely sometimes but with Carol’s help, I really feel like everything has slotted into place. I always look forward to her coming round and to give me a hug, have a chat, and allow me to enjoy the things I like doing.”  

Hospice Care Week is a national campaign which aims to raise the profile of hospice care across the UK. This year’s theme, ‘This Is What It Takes’, celebrates the amazing supporters, volunteers and members of staff who provide vital hospice care to people and their loved ones when it’s needed most.