As a couple, John and Jean combine talent with generosity. They first met at Bournville Music Festival, where John was playing the violin and Jean the piano. Now, celebrating their 53rd wedding anniversary, their passion for music continues to be a big part of their lives – as well as their remarkable commitment to volunteering.
Together, they have clocked up 36 years of volunteering at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, which provides vital care to individuals and families living with terminal illness across Birmingham and Sandwell. John volunteers his time by giving musically-themed talks whilst raising crucial funds, whereas Jean volunteers in the charity’s choir and supports patients at the Day Hospice. Here, they share their unique stories.
“My love of music has followed me throughout my whole life – from playing the violin at school to having a house full of records in almost every format.
“When I retired, I knew I wanted to share my enthusiasm with others and so I decided to give themed, musical talks to groups within the local community. My talks focus on a range of subjects, including the theatre, cinema and radio – with key pieces of music played throughout.
“From the beginning, I decided not to charge for my services but instead request a donation to be made to Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice. Over the years, the Hospice has provided wonderful care and support to both relatives and friends and so volunteering my time to help raise awareness and funds is my way of giving something back.
“Over 21 years, I have given a total of 1,425 talks to different groups across the Midlands. I have spoken in venues such as community centres and church halls, and have even delivered my programmes in people’s front rooms!
“Whilst I don’t set out to make people feel nostalgic, it’s always very touching when I play a piece of music that prompts the memory. Quite often, people will spontaneously sing along to a song I’m playing, or comment afterwards that a particular piece of music was a favourite of their partners.
“I am always overwhelmed by the generosity of others to support our local hospice. So far, my talks have raised £40,946 for Birmingham St Mary’s, as well as help spread the word of its vital services. Jean often keeps me updated with what’s happening at the Hospice and so it’s fantastic to know that my support – along with those that come to my talks – is helping to make a difference.”
“Like John, music has always been an important part of my life. Having recovered from rheumatic fever when I was seven-years-old, my mum arranged for me to have piano lessons – with the sole purpose of stopping me from running around for half an hour each day! However, I enjoyed it so much that I eventually gained teaching and performing qualifications in both piano and singing.
“Over the years, I’ve sang in a number of choirs but it was when I was part of the ‘Northfield Leisure Singers’ that I first thought of volunteering for Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice. Our daughter, Karen, was the Day Hospice manager at the time and she invited the choir down to sing to the individuals one afternoon.
“Although the choir had performed at a number of events around the Midlands, raising money for Birmingham St Mary’s, we were a little reluctant to perform at the Hospice itself. We imagined it to be a very sad and lonely environment where people came to die. However, we couldn’t have been more wrong – a hospice isn’t a place where you come to die, it’s a place where you come to learn how to live with your illness. We loved performing there, so much so, that we regularly returned.
“Therefore, when I retired, I decided to volunteer at the Hospice as a general carer in the Day Hospice. My role involves lots of different elements, from providing emotional support to serving drinks and lunch. For six years, I also worked as a volunteer complimentary therapist, and was instrumental in setting up and acting as chair for the charity’s own choir.
“As John mentioned, friends and family have used the services of Birmingham St Mary’s, so giving up my time to help others is my way of saying thank you for the support they have provided over the years.
“I absolutely love volunteering and, whilst there can be happy and sad times, knowing that I am helping others to get through what can be a difficult time in their lives, makes it all worthwhile. The work is so humbling and fulfilling and certainly puts my own little niggles into perspective.
“For anyone that is thinking of giving up their time to volunteer, I say come and join us! It’s fantastic to be part of such a lovely team and to know that you’re helping to improve the lives of others.”
Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice provides vital care to over 1,200 individuals and families living with terminal illness across Birmingham and Sandwell. To find out more about our volunteering opportunities, please click here.