At Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, our Day Hospice is a bright and vibrant place which helps people to live their lives in the best way they can. Individuals will come and spend one day a week with us for a 12-week programme, where they will receive physical, emotional and social support to help them live well.

Our volunteer drivers are vital in making sure that people can come along to the Day Hospice, by picking patients up and then dropping them back home again. Jenny is just one of these big-hearted volunteer drivers. She reveals what she loves most about the role and why she’s been giving up her time for over 20 years to drive people to-and-from the Day Hospice…

Hi Jenny, we hear you’ve been one of our volunteer drivers for an impressive 20 years – what made you want to take on this role?

I had recently retired when one of my very good friends was diagnosed with a life-limiting cancer. She was being supported by the Hospice and had a really lovely nurse called Marguerite, who would come and visit her in her home to offer advice and support.

I visited my friend a lot during her illness and so I would end up talking to Marguerite quite a bit. She just so happened to mention that the Hospice really needed volunteer drivers to take patients to-and-from the Day Hospice and so I thought I’d give it a go.

I’d never driven for work before – I was a teacher at a children’s hospital for 23 years – and so I didn’t have any experience. But I’m a people’s person and I had just retired so I thought ‘why not give it a go?’ After all, I now had that extra bit of time on my hands and it would feel good to use it profitably and help others.

My friend received such wonderful care from the Hospice too and so I thought it would be nice to give something back to them. Mind you, I never thought I would still be here 20 years later!  

What’s made you volunteer for so long?

It’s definitely the people. I’ve met so many different people from all walks of life but they’ve all been lovely. I’ll pick them up from their home, we’ll have a good natter and a laugh in the car, I’ll drop them off at the Hospice and then I’ll pick them up later on in the day.

Some people are really hesitant when you pick them up for the very first time. For a lot of them, they have never been to a hospice before so they are normally quite anxious or scared about coming here. But when you pick them up at the end of the day and you can see how much more relaxed they are, you realise how vital the Day Hospice service is, which in turn, makes you realise how vital driving patients there and back is too.

I usually end up building a great rapport with the people I pick up. Some of them will show me photos of their grandchildren whilst others have brought me a piece of birthday cake – it’s amazing to know that they regard you as part of their hospice journey. Over their 12-week programme, you’ll see week by week how much more keen people are to come here. It’s a nice feeling knowing that the Hospice is making a difference and that you’ve contributed to it.   

What does a typical day of volunteering look like?

So I volunteer at the Hospice every Thursday. Alison, the Day Hospice coordinator, will normally give me a call on the Wednesday to confirm who I will be picking up and give me all the information I need.

I drive my own car so on Thursday morning, I set off with enough time to get the patients to the Hospice for 10am. As I drive my own car and don’t have a nurse come with me, the people I pick up are normally quite mobile. I always go to the patient’s front door and walk them to the car, before heading off to the Hospice.

Once I’ve done this, I’m then free until just before 3pm – giving me plenty of time to catch up on my own errands. Then at 3pm, I’m back at the Hospice and ready to take patients back home. It’s nice because you’re not necessarily volunteering all day so you’ve got time in between to do any odd jobs that need doing.

What do you like most about volunteering?

It’s knowing that you’ve helped to make someone’s day pleasant for them. The patients are so grateful for your service and it feels good to know that you’re doing something truly helpful.

You drive patients to and from the Day Hospice service – do they tell you how the service is benefiting them?

Some of them do but even those that don’t talk about it, you can still see how the service is making a difference to them. 

I think there are two main ways that the Day Hospice supports people. Firstly, it’s a safe space where a person can speak to doctors, nurses and other experts to ask questions and get answers. What makes it special though is that they can chat to medical professionals but not in the same way that they would at a hospital or a doctor’s appointment – they can talk about things that might not just be about physical symptoms.

Secondly, it’s a place where they can talk to each other. They are around people who are in a similar situation, so they don’t have to watch what they say or worry about upsetting anyone. It’s always nice to hear that a lot of the patients will become great friends and swap phone numbers, so they can text and call whilst at home. I think that peer support is a great benefit.

Have you learned any new skills since volunteering?

Listening – I’ve really learned how to listen to people about how they’re feeling or thinking.

Like I said, you build up a great rapport with the people you pick up and you often become a listening ear whilst driving. I can’t say that I am there to give advice but sometimes I don’t think that always matters – it’s just being someone who they can talk to. 

Would you recommend volunteer driving to others?

I absolutely love this role – I wouldn’t still be here after 20 years if I didn’t! I would highly recommend anyone to join the team. If you’ve got a few hours a week that you can spare, then it’s a great way to meet new people, learn new skills and give back to help others.

Thank you Jenny for sharing your story with us. Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice is currently recruiting for more volunteer drivers to join our friendly team. So if you have a full, clean driving licence and can spare a few hours on a Tuesday or Thursday, then we would love to hear from you!

You can find out more about the role by taking a read here or by giving our Day Hospice team a call on 0121 752 8796. Just a few hours a week can have a big, positive impact for someone who is living with life-limiting illness.