Andrew Foreshew-Cain became a Blythe House Community Volunteer in summer 2018, and since then, has provided practical support and companionship to hospice patients and their families, including respite care and gardening.

Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Andrew has continued his vital role in the community, as one of 48 volunteers providing essential care and support to local patients, as well as those who are vulnerable, lonely or isolated.

Here, Andrew explains more about his volunteering role…

‘I became a Community Volunteer back in 2018; I was looking for a way to give back to the local community, and everyone spoke so highly of Blythe House and the work it does that it seemed to be the natural place to go. I had been baking for the monthly coffee mornings for a little while beforehand, which I very much enjoyed, but decided that a less personally fattening way forward was perhaps wise!

‘I trained up to be a Community Volunteers, working with the ever cheerful Julie and Vicci [Forrest and Wild, Community Volunteer programme staff team]. The training was thorough and interesting and answered a lot of questions and concerns. I then spent the summer sitting with a patient whilst his wife went out for a break each week. It was so easy and enjoyable and his wife was so appreciative.

‘I also helped out with a few gardening jobs – in one place in a garden already so immaculately kept that I was worried I would mess it up, but the owner clearly felt that the usual standards had slipped. It made my own attempts at gardening at home look rather shoddy, and inspired me to try a little harder!

‘I work in Oxford in term time during the week, so was away when COVID-19 kicked off. I came back at the end of March and responded to an email from the team. I have a couple of regular things to do each week – shopping for person in Whaley Bridge and checking in on an older resident in Chapel. Both are simple and rewarding to do and seem to be really appreciated.

‘I’ve also done a bit of running around doing deliveries and so on, as and when asked. But I find you have to be quick off the mark – a need is posted and people are right on it and support offered. I decided to limit what I offered to once or twice a week to give others the chance to do something so I do not sit on the computer looking of things to do.

‘I am always happy to respond to a direct request, which has happened a few times and the team are great in understanding when it’s not possible. I am back to work off furlough now and spending a lot of time taking part in online meetings, so sometimes it isn’t always possible to help. But that is always understood and any help offered seems to be appreciated.

‘The thing I have enjoyed most about volunteering during lockdown is the simple reward of being able to do something, when it feels at the moment that we can’t do a lot in the face of the challenge that is facing society. I’m not a doctor, I am not a nurse, I am not a teacher or a worker in a shop or in a front line service delivery role – it would be too easy to sit at home and feel useless but volunteering for Blythe House means I can do a little bit to make life easier for people who are having a hard time and help support the community around me.

‘There’s huge kindness around, and the stress of these weeks seems to have released people to be consciously kinder in response to the stress. Simple things like people saying thank you and smiling as we dance around each other as we pass in the street, trying not to get too close. The staff at the entrance to shops helping make the delays of waiting to enter more bearable and the wonderful way organisations like Blythe House but also the local smaller shops and companies have responded in imaginative ways to offer deliveries and make life a little easier. Of course there are grumpy people around, and certainly at the start some of us didn’t behave very well but that seems to have faded and we’ve rediscovered something in this period that I hope we keep: how local community is important and local shops and organisations are the backbone of the country.

‘Right at the start of lockdown, I was asked to go shopping for one person, and went to the butcher to get some meat for them, including some ham that was clearly stated on the list. When I got home I put the bags down and popped out to get something else on the list only to discover on my return that my cat had discovered the ham and made off with it. I had to go and get a replacement from the local supermarket as the butchers had shut. I was not asked to do that person’s shopping again!

‘I’ve also had some lovely conversations with one particular person – he’s well into his 80’s and has lived in Chapel for years and knows loads of history. His house is ancient, and he pointed out that the path outside the house that I was standing was built on a culvert that had been a stream until the 1950’s – and that the people in his house had grown watercress in it for themselves and to sell locally. You’d never know to look at the street and houses now that it had been such a different place then. He has also told me more about Morris dancing and thinks I have the legs for it!

‘I’m also involved with a group called Tea and Chat in Chapel, for older local residents. In more normal times we meet monthly for a chat and a chance to catch up with each other; old friends reconnecting and having a laugh. We’ve set up a Zoom group and meet virtually every Friday, which is a lot of fun but we are very much looking forward to life beginning to return to normal and being able to see each other again and share a cup of tea face to face.

‘I’m a Church of England minster – so I am also hosting prayers every evening on Zoom and a short service online on a Sunday morning. Both are meant to be for students and staff from my college but mostly seem to be “attended” by Chapel locals. It’s a bit odd, but we’re also able to reach people who haven’t been able to get to Church for years but can now pray and feel part of a community of friends. There’s a lesson there for us as we come out of lockdown that we mustn’t lose.

‘Overall, people have been very kind and appreciative, even for the smallest things that take so little out of my day but make a big difference to the lives of the people I am seeing. It is rewarding – and humbling. As always, I am pleased to be part of the Blythe House team; it is a good place to be.’