Heather Roberts has been volunteering with our hospice since 2018. When her usual volunteering roles were temporarily stopped due to COVID-19 she has continued to help in new roles, including as a Telephone Buddy and volunteer screener. Here, Heather shares more.
“I started volunteering with St Catherine’s Hospice in 2018 after I retired. I’d had a friend spend time in St Catherine’s so there was a natural affiliation. I had a very positive first impression about St Catherine’s, so I was pleased to become a volunteer.
While I was still at secondary school, I had ambitions to have a career in either nursing or teaching. Volunteering with St Catherine’s has allowed me to give my time in a nursing environment, work as part of a team, and given me a chance to meet new people – all things I enjoy
When I first looked for volunteering opportunities on the hospice website there was a role for a volunteer Patient Escort
In this role, I’d accompany a driver to collect patients from their homes each week and bring them to the hospice’s Living Well Centre. This gave people chance to spend time with others who were in a similar situation and gave their carers a break. It also gave me chance to meet different people and build relationships.
Once I’d settled a patient in the Living Well Centre, I volunteered there as a Living Well Centre Host. I worked alongside hospice staff helping to set up activities for the patients and I also offered hand massages to those who were interested in a more relaxing activity.
The Living Well Centre was a vibrant place – all day long there was laughter
If I could brighten someone’s day by helping them, offering a hand massage, or making them a cup of coffee I was happy to be part of the team. After their time at the Living Well Centre, the hospice’s minibus would take people safely back home.
I even joined a hospice choir, made up of staff, volunteers, patients and carers on a Wednesday evening.
When COVID-19 hit, the hospice had to temporarily shut the Living Well Centre to keep everyone safe. It meant I couldn’t continue my usual volunteering, but during the first lockdown, new volunteer roles were created to continue to remotely support people under St Catherine’s care.
The Living Well Centre launched a new Telephone Buddy system which I took part in
People known to St Catherine’s who would appreciate a weekly phone call, to keep in touch and receive some support, were buddied up with a volunteer. I was paired with five people from April 2020 to March 2021, each pairing lasted for 12 weeks.
It was a very interesting and rewarding experience chatting to my different buddies and listening to the stories that they shared
Since July 2020, I’ve also been volunteering at the hospice once a week as a screener
I feel I’m doing something worthwhile and continuing to help people. When visitors arrive, I assist them to process their Lateral Flow COVID-19 test. Once their test result is shown as negative, I then help in providing all the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) that facilitates their visit to see their loved ones. This role requires me to respond and deal with things as they occur, but there is very good interaction and support from reception staff. They are very knowledgeable and I can pass things onto them or another staff member if needed, so I never feel like I am alone or unsupported.
The screening role has given me interaction with people throughout the pandemic, which was very welcome. It meant I wasn’t as isolated as I might have been, as it kept me meeting new people
During a recent screening session there were more visitors than expected coming in. During those times it can sometimes be a challenge to make sure everyone is seen as quickly and practically as possible, but I enjoy being busy! When you arrive for your volunteer shift, you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen, but time often just disappears!
People are always so appreciative of what we do and so grateful that they can still visit their loved ones
On two occasions, I have even had friends arrive to visit someone. It has been a surprise but it’s nice to help people that I know while I am there.
Visitors often ask if they can donate for the PPE we give them to keep them safe during their visits, but everything is free at St Catherine’s. It’s all funded, largely by community donations. The breadth of fundraising and the generosity of the charity has surprised me – there’s no discrimination. If you need help, you’ll get it without any cost.
St Catherine’s provides an incredible service to the community
Even when we went into lockdown so suddenly, the hospice was thinking of how they could maintain their service through such difficult times.
Things were falling down in the world but delivering care and support to patients and their families, remained paramount to St Catherine’s. It was clear to all of us involved with the charity that was a priority focus
The lovely atmosphere and the lovely people keep me volunteering
I love being a part of the St Catherine’s team. The hospice isn’t a sad place, but one filled with a positive, fun filled atmosphere, where nothing is too much trouble.
Since volunteering here, I’ve met such a wide range of people, all with different experiences. Everyone has a different reason for being at the hospice or visiting, and everyone has a different story to tell. I’ve been humbled by how people cope with such adversity and how they’ll often talk so openly about their circumstances. Spending time with them makes me realise I don’t have anything to moan about.
It’s very apparent that, as volunteers, we’re hugely valued by everyone at St Catherine’s
Staff are always thanking us, which is very positive and much appreciated. Volunteering’s flexible too. When I was volunteering in the Living Well Centre, I used to book the school holidays off to spend time with my grandchildren. I was never made to feel bad, the staff actually encouraged it.
The people I’ve met at the hospice are all very supportive. In 2019, when my grandson was in hospital for three months, every week when I went into the hospice to volunteer, the staff would ask me how he was. I’d give them a rundown, and as nurses, they were appreciative of his condition. They were never judgmental, and I was able to offload. When I go into the hospice now, people still ask about my grandson, it’s a mutual relationship on both sides.
Since volunteering at St Catherine’s I’ve gained knowledge surrounding end of life care
And the practical and emotional support on offer which I’ve been able to share with others. Recently, I was able to help a friend by putting her in touch with Lisa, the Spiritual Care Lead, at the hospice. Lisa conducted a family funeral service. Her involvement meant the service was much more personal than it might otherwise have been, and organising it was less stressful for my friend. Lisa made a home visit and put the funeral service together with input from the family, she was so helpful and so available.
That’s exactly what St Catherine’s offers people – help, availability and support.”