My colleagues love serenading me with “Come on Eileen”

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Eileen Dunn has been volunteering with our hospice since 2019. Here she shares more about her experiences volunteering.

‘There’s not a shift that goes by without this being sung! It’s yet another example of the wonderful camaraderie we have as a team that helps to make my day.’

“I started volunteering with St Catherine’s in April 2019 which was approximately eight months after my husband died. Terry wasn’t cared for at St Catherine’s but witnessing at first hand the high quality care, love and dignity that’s provided to patients and their visitors by the dedicated team of nurses and counsellors, I would have given anything for him to have had the privilege of hospice care.

A couple of friends recommended volunteering at the hospice to me

Where would I be without my friends? It was their suggestion that I may want to consider applying for a voluntary role at St Catherine’s.

I’m so glad I did as I’ve never looked back. I must admit I was a bit apprehensive even thinking about stepping inside a hospice as the general consensus of opinion is that they must be depressing places. Far from it! As soon as you walk inside you are warmly welcomed by the reception team

I started volunteering as a Hospitality Assistant, which is a posh title for working in the kitchen with the catering staff

I helped to support the kitchen by making sure it was always clean and tidy by washing up, cleaning surfaces and sorting out clean crockery, cutlery and equipment as well as filling patient water jugs at each bedside. In addition, I would take meal trays down to the wards depending on the time of my shift, serve tea, coffee and cake or take round the infamous drinks trolley.

The interactions with the patients and their loved ones is very rewarding

Sadly, the first lockdown was implemented on 23 March 2020 due to coronavirus which meant I was no longer able to volunteer in the kitchen for obvious reasons.

Thankfully, in June 2020 a new role was advertised for a volunteer screener that I applied for which I was so pleased to be offered

In my role, I screen visitors on arrival to the hospice by asking them for their personal details, which is then followed by a temperature check and a lateral flow test. The lateral flow results usually take around 20 minutes. The visitors are asked to wait in their car and await a call from reception with their results which are hopefully negative. On arrival from their negative test result I then issue them with personal protective equipment (PPE) so they can safely visit their loved one.

St Catherine’s is like my second home

And I feel very proud, humbled and honoured to be given the opportunity to volunteer.

I was interested in the volunteer screener role as I like the interaction with people. I volunteer two mornings a week on Thursdays and Fridays from 9.45am to 1.45pm. I’ve really thrown myself into it!

The screening role is a full on busy one, as lots of people visit in the mornings. The record I’ve had is 26 visitors on Easter Saturday morning.

I always come in a bit early to make sure everything’s laid out neat and tidy, so I can do visitors’ screening thoroughly, quickly and efficiently. I always like to have the radio on as I love my music, but I also think it gives a nice ambience for our visitors – it helps to add to the hospice’s homely feel.

In this role you need to have attention to detail, good organisational skills and to have the gift to be able to talk to the different visitors that come in.

Every shift is different, but I do what comes naturally. It’s all about building a rapport with people. You get to know people and to recognise when someone has a twinkle in their eye then you know you can have a joke or two or a bit of banter. Having a sense of humour is important to some visitors and likewise to me too.

Some visitors are more fragile than others so it’s important to keep things as normal as possible and to be reassuring and comforting. It’s such a difficult time for people but we’re here to help create a calm, welcoming atmosphere

There are moments the role is tough like the day I was offering my condolences to a gentleman whose wife had just died. He was naturally overwhelmed with grief, with tears streaming down his face, which made me feel very emotional but for professional reasons I had to compress my feelings until he left the building. It was only then I could let it all out and have a bit of a boo.

I can empathise with how people feel when they lose a loved one having been there myself, the loss and emptiness is heavier than you think

I do what I can to take people’s mind off things

I find it more difficult when visitors come in with children but even then I do what I can to take their mind off things.

A while ago, two young sons were visiting their Mum. I chatted to them about football, they were Tottenham supporters and when I said I supported Chelsea, OMG did they take the mickey out of me and my team! It’s about striking up a rapport whatever someone’s age

The warm welcome people receive when they step into reception always strikes me

They say first impressions count and they most certainly do when it comes to St Catherine’s reception. The receptionists are so friendly and helpful to visitors and to us as screeners, and they are an absolute joy and pleasure to work with. Without their help and support we would find it extremely hard to do our role.

Wayne and Clive in the management team are always willing to lend a hand if the need arises and I know they’re there for me if I need back up.

Everybody is so friendly and it’s a really nice environment to volunteer in. Wayne and the housekeeping girls love serenading me with the song “Come on Eileen” – there’s not a shift that goes by without this being sung! It’s yet another example of the wonderful camaraderie we have as a team that helps to make my day.

Everyone stops to say hello when I’m on the screening desk, from the housekeepers to Giles, the Chief Executive. It makes what I’m doing feel very worthwhile and makes me feel valued.

The appreciation from the staff is always there. Nothing is taken for granted. What I give back to the hospice in return they give back to me

I’d like to say a big thank you to the management, the volunteering team, catering staff for teas and coffees, and the reception staff for the great understanding and support they give me and to the other screeners.

It’s so gratifying when visitors give us nice feedback too

It’s wonderful to know you’ve made a difference. When someone says something like ‘I can’t thank you enough’ it really is music to my ears – it’s always nice to receive a thank you and to feel appreciated.

Our team of screeners won the Volunteer Group award at the Crawley Community Awards 2021 for our voluntary work. This was a massive achievement and the award sits very proudly on our desk for all to see. Visitors say well done and think we are amazing doing the job we do, and that makes me feel very proud and honoured to be an ambassador for St Catherine’s.

Volunteering here is exactly what I need

Volunteering with the hospice helps to fill my time as well as making me feel I’m doing something purposeful and worthwhile with my life

I never thought I’d be on the other side of the fence talking to people who have lost or are losing their loved ones and showing them such empathy. I never dreamt I’d be doing it, but it turns out I love it with a passion. And I’m good at it.

Volunteering has been a life-changing experience for me and I really enjoy it – “Live life to the fullest because it only happens once” is my motto.”

If you would like to find out more about volunteering with our hospice please click here or to make a donation please click here