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“This place is my heart and soul”

Mel and Anthea are two of our catering volunteers who have returned to help us after we had to pause volunteering during the coronavirus pandemic. Here they share more about what it’s like to be back volunteering.

“I’ve been volunteering with your hospice for 17 years in December”

explains Mel. “I started when I was 60. My husband Dave died under your care at the hospice 26 years ago. I’ll never forget how when he was admitted about 11pm at night the hospice doors opened and someone said ‘hello David,’ it was so welcoming. After Dave passed away, I decided I wanted to volunteer.”

Anthea volunteered at a hospice in Essex in the kitchen for 10 years before she became a volunteer here at St Catherine’s

“When I moved down here my partner was a St Catherine’s supporter,” says Anthea. “I started volunteering with your hospice in 2016 after my husband came here at the end of his life.”

“I love my work here” says Mel. “I wasn’t happy when I couldn’t be here as it’s a big part of my life and a regular part of my week. I’ve been back three months today.

It’s nice as when I started back volunteering nurses came to see me in the kitchen and said I heard you’re back. I still feel part of the team, not just the kitchen but the reception and nursing team too as we all work together for the patients. I’m so pleased to come back”

Things have obviously changed with coronavirus, but Anthea says, “We know we need to protect patient’s interests and we need to look after them carefully at the moment. I used to volunteer as a Hospitality Assistant taking round the drinks and tea trolley and interacting with patients and their families. I miss that and I’m sure they do too, but we all understand.

I think the drinks trolley is a lovely idea, so many people look forward to that! I know we did when my husband was here. We were taken aback that it was offered but sometimes it’s exactly what you need. It’s the sort of thing families do together at home, and it brings that to the hospice”

“The care they put in here is every bit as much as a London hotel”

“We have to stay in our own zones now” explains Mel, “And only one of us volunteers at a time, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. I miss seeing patients but I still do my bit washing up, clearing away pots and pans, filling water jugs and tidying up patient’s breakfast trays.”

“Each shift we do different things,” adds Anthea. “I take over from Mel, so I clear up the lunch trays, fill up water jugs and then do some bits ahead of teatime.

The catering staff do everything so beautifully for people – the care they put in here is every bit as much as a London hotel. There’s so many little, thoughtful touches they do like decorating meal trays for patients. Those things make such a difference. People here are always prepared to do the compassionate thing

Sometimes we’ll have a doctor come into the kitchen and ask us to make a tea tray at a second’s notice as they need to speak to visitors in the Quiet Room. You never know how visitors are going to be or what they might need but we’re always prepared to do whatever we can to help.”

“The team here do so much for patients, but they also make us feel really appreciated as volunteers”

says Mel. “They’ve been lovely about us being back. Sal even made a cake for another volunteers’ birthday recently. We’re made to feel like one, big happy family”

“That’s part of St Catherine’s ethos,” adds Anthea “Everyone interacts. Despite any difficulties that are faced I agree we are like a happy family. We adjust to different circumstances and it’s great how everything has been organised to keep everyone safe. That must have taken some work!”

“What you put in here you get out” says Mel, “And volunteering gives me a real satisfaction.

Over my years volunteering I’ve met lots of ladies and patients and in our role, you do get to know them. They show you things like their nail varnish or wigs and tell you things, it’s nice. One lady once asked me what time I finished my shift and asked that I went back to see her afterwards

When you’re with the patients you never know what they’ll say but we know how to respond.”

Anthea agrees, “Every time you come in you never know what will happen but it’s about getting to know people. Even saying “hello, how are you?” to someone can make a difference. When you see people, you get a feeling and you instinctively know whether to smile or ask if someone is alright. It’s the instinct of thinking about how you can make a difference. Can you offer them a cup of tea or a kind word? It’s those things that get them through.

We’ve had some special moments here at the hospice too

There was a wedding once where a lady was wheeled into the Quiet Room. She was very poorly and died straight afterwards, so that was happy and sad but it’s all part of it. Once the catering team did a rainbow party for another lady who’d been on the wards a while, it’s lovely to be involved in moments like that

There’s moments for staff too. Recently the catering team made a cake for someone celebrating their 50th birthday then on another shift they made someone’s leaving cake.”

“People are very fortunate to come here,” adds Mel.

“The hospice is a unique, wonderful support service” explains Anthea. “When my grandfather died in the 1950’s it was very traumatising. He died in a hospital bed in pain and my family would have given everything to have him in somewhere like the hospice. These days people don’t need to have a terrible death, that’s why I’ve always championed the hospice movement. Lots of people think hospices are grim but I think there’s started to be a turnaround in understanding.”

“It’s a privilege to come in and be here for patients”

says Mel. “When Dave was in here, he was staying on Heaselands ward and I can still remember how his bed was by the window. They’re the sort of memories you keep. The rooms changed into a family room now and there’s computers next door, but I’ll always remember his stay.”

“Some people feel they can’t come back here after losing someone which I understand but coming back to volunteer helped me adjust having lost my husband,” explains Anthea. “I still have wobbly moments when I go past certain rooms, but my experiences have been very positive.”

“You feel like you’re giving something back when you volunteer here, whether that’s speaking to patients or helping visitors through a difficult time”  says Mel. “I’m so happy to be able to come here every Thursday. It was hard for me not being able to come in”

Anthea felt the same. “Although we had Zoom meetings, I didn’t realise how much I would miss being able to play my part. I felt like I was letting the hospice down not being able to come in and help.” “My heart and soul is in this place,” sums up Mel. “It’s a big part of my life.”

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