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“I volunteer because I know how vital that helping hand can be”

15 October 2019

At Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, we wouldn’t be able to offer such a wide range of services without the generous support of our volunteers. We caught up with Polly, who has been volunteering with us for over three years, to get an insight into what she does, why she does it and how it positively impacts others.

Hi Polly! Thank you for being one of our wonderful volunteers at the Hospice. What made you want to support us?

I started volunteering about three years ago, after my friend was cared for by the Hospice. She stayed in a private room on the Hospice’s Inpatient Unit and I was really impressed with the level of care and compassion that the nurses and doctors gave to her. So much so, that I knew I wanted to give something back, which is why I looked into volunteering roles here.

What volunteering roles do you do?

My first volunteering role was ‘Volunteer Ambassador’, which I absolutely love and still do today. I really enjoy being an ambassador for the Hospice as it’s a chance to get out and about in the local community and help spread awareness of the vital care and support the Hospice can provide.

As an ambassador, I represent the charity at fundraising events that are hosted on behalf of the Hospice. I’ve met some amazing people in this role and have been to some really fun fundraisers, such as 70s disco nights, live music events, and dinner and dances.

When I’m at the events, I tend to give a talk about what the Hospice does and how it can support people, as well as say a big thank you to everyone there who is fundraising for us. It’s a big thing to represent the charity in this way but I really do enjoy it because everyone is so grateful that you’re there.

For some people, they might be fundraising because we’ve cared for a loved one, so I think going along and sharing my experience can help empower them to talk too. I always feel very humbled when someone shares their own experience of the Hospice because it’s not every day that someone will come up to you and share something so personal. It really does amaze me every time.

As well as being an ambassador, we hear you volunteer at Hospice fundraising events too?

I’ve done loads! I’ve taken part in city-wide bucket collections; I’ve handed out chocolatey goodies at a tasty fun run, the Chocolate 5k; I’ve been a route marshal at the Rugby Ramble which is a 10k walking challenge; and even helped register hundreds of Santas for a festive fun run, the Jingle Bell Jog!

There’s always such a brilliant atmosphere at the Hospice’s events. You get to meet so many wonderful people who are all there with one common purpose – to help the Hospice continue to support patients and their loved ones.

More recently, you’ve joined our Support at Home team – can you tell us about that?

I love volunteering in the fundraising team and as I’ve learned more about the charity over the years, I’ve realised there are so many different volunteering roles on offer. I’ve always wanted to do something that was more face-to-face or hands on with patients so after a couple of chats with different people at the Hospice, I decided to become a Support at Home volunteer.

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 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.

For example, the wife of a patient who I visit really appreciates the respite time I give to her. It means that she can go to her exercise class with friends and do a little bit of shopping, whilst having that peace of mind that her husband is safe at home with me. It’s only a couple of hours of my time but to her, it’s a lifeline for her emotional and mental wellbeing.

What does a typical Support at Home visit look like?

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.

Then, when the carer comes back a couple of hours later, I’ll normally have a quick chat with them, just to make sure they’re ok and to see how they’re getting on.

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.

Did you receive any training to do this role?

Yes, I had some training before my first visit to a patient which was great, because it gave me the knowledge and confidence needed to do this role. But what’s really good is that the training didn’t end there – I’ve since been invited to lots of different courses, so it’s a wonderful way to keep learning new skills. I’ve had dementia training, I’ve been to workshop on loss and grief, and I’ve also had support with how to look after data.

As well as that, we also get regular contact with the Hospice through phone calls and emails so you always feel well supported.

Even with my volunteering roles with the fundraising team, I think it’s really refreshing to do something which means you keep on learning. I never want to become complacent in life and volunteering means I’m always doing new things, meeting new people, and seeing the world from a different perspective.

It’s wonderful to hear how volunteering makes a difference to your life as well as the people you support. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of volunteering?

I’d say do it! There are so many roles out there to suit different people, so take a look at the website or give the Hospice a call – who knows what you could end up doing!

Thank you Polly for sharing your story with us. If you’ve been inspired by Polly’s story and would like to volunteer, take a look at our current opportunities here. We’re always on the lookout for new people to join our friendly team – just a couple of hours each week could make a big difference to local people living with life-limiting illness.