To mark Volunteers Week, volunteer receptionist Marion remembers her 34 years of service as she hangs up her lanyard. During those years Marion has dealt with a whole range of tasks, including welcoming visitors to the Hospice and providing a reassuring presence for patients and families. One of the founding members of the Hospice choir, she’s also helped raise £20,000 through their concerts. Here she reflects on how the Hospice has grown during her time and the moments of laughter and happiness.
I always knew about the Hospice as I live ten minutes’ walk from the building in Selly Park but it was when my sons came home from school with the parish notes that I first saw Birmingham St Mary’s was looking for volunteers. I thought the charity was doing brilliant work that was really needed, so I signed up.
That was back in the 1980s when the Hospice was a lot smaller, no Day Hospice or Fundraising department. There was an inpatient unit that only had three single rooms and two multi-bedded wards. Volunteers worked on the ward too as nursing auxiliaries (the healthcare assistants of their day).
I spent most of my time volunteering on reception with the occasional shift as a ward clerk. Those were the days before computers so everything was done using hand-written records.
As a volunteer receptionist, there was a lot of contact with patients and families and we got to know people fairly well if they visited regularly. It was often part of our role to escort patients to their bed. Some of them would tell us they were frightened by the thought of coming into the Hospice. We’d have a chat with them on the way to the ward. I missed that contact with patients and their visitors when the volunteers moved to the reception at the other end of the building.
I wanted to keep going until I was 80 – I didn’t quite manage that – but I’ll still be supporting the Hospice by singing in the Choir.
When the Hospice was being reconfigured and refurbished some years ago, the inpatient unit, reception and kitchen were moved off site temporarily to the Neville Williams Care Home in Selly Park. They had only just opened as a care home with only a few residents, so had space to accommodate us. It was an interesting experience; they had a different ethos to the Hospice. They made us feel very welcome but we were glad to get back home to our improved premises on Raddlebarn Road.
Singing in the funds with the Hospice choir
The idea for the Hospice Choir originally came from a Fundraising volunteer. An open meeting was advertised for anyone interested. Only a few men turned up and my husband, Joe, was the only one to stay the course. He is now our Musical Director. The Choir started in September 2013 but our original MD left after a few weeks. A choir member took over at very short notice to enable us to fulfil our Christmas concert commitment. In January 2014 Joe was invited to become the MD. As no other men ever showed interest in joining we became a ladies Choir.
The Choir not only raises funds for the Hospice (about £20,000) but it has over the years provided friendship and support to all its members. We have a large eclectic repertoire including spirituals, folk songs, show tunes including Les Miserables and the Sound of Music, as well as Christmas songs and carols. The Choir has had the privilege with other local Choirs of performing with the Birmingham-based, world renowned Choir, Ex Cathedra. We have sung with them in all three of Birmingham’s concert venues, even singing Rachmaninov’s Vespers (in Russian!). The Hospice Choir has obviously suspended operations during the pandemic but we hope to be able to perform a Christmas concert in December (new members always welcome).
Birmingham St Mary’s feels to me like a place of light and laughter. Yes, there are times of sadness but it’s not the gloomy place people might expect it to be.
Saying goodbye but still supporting
It feels a bit surreal to be leaving as I’ve not been into the Hospice for a year now because of the pandemic. It’s helped having made that separation. I think if I had been volunteering on site I would have found it very emotional and difficult to go. Because the decision was taken from me, it’s not been that bad. I was offered the chance to go back in the summer but I didn’t want to take the risk as my husband is in his eighties. I don’t want to lose him now that I’ve got him so well trained!
Birmingham St Mary’s feels to me like a place of light and laughter. Yes, there are times of sadness but it’s not the gloomy place people might expect it to be. Over the years I’ve seen staff dancing and singing on the ward, (not in an inappropriate way), and even visits from Elvis the donkey, just helping create a sense of happiness and a homely atmosphere. At times in the evenings, the ward would can feel so peaceful and calm. It gives people and their carers time and space to breathe.
Somewhat reluctantly I’m stepping down after volunteering for 34 years. I wanted to keep going until I was 80 – I didn’t quite manage that – but I’ll still be supporting the Hospice by singing in the Choir.
A fond farewell, Marion, and a huge thank you for all those years of dedication, from everyone at Birmingham St Mary’s!