After the announcement about a second national lockdown on 31.10.2020, some quotes or sentences in Pauline’s story below may seem incorrect/ unsuitable, however please note that Pauline’s story was written in September 2020, after she had returned to her volunteering role at our Buxton shop following the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Pauline O’Brien has volunteered her time at Blythe House’s Buxton shop for around seven years, after finding out about opportunities from her friend and fellow volunteer, Brenda Edge.

Pauline said: ‘I was out one Friday night with Brenda and some of our other friends, and Brenda said that the shop was in need of an extra pair of hands. I had just retired and I thought, “I could do that!” I signed up as a volunteer and have been here ever since.

‘I am a bit of a busy bee, and help out during my shifts with whatever wants doing. I will sort donations, hang and display items on the shop floor, serve customers at the till, or do any other odd jobs that want doing. Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, I also supported the hospice’s monthly coffee mornings and would serve refreshments and generally meet and mingle with visitors.

‘Post-COVID, coming back to volunteering at the shop, I feel safe and comfortable. A woman actually said to me earlier today that she was impressed with how well organised and set out the shop is, to help our customers feel safe whilst shopping here.

‘To prospective volunteers, I would say, come and have a go! Blythe House, and the hospice shop specifically, is such a friendly place to work and everyone is so kind. I love the women that I work with and I feel like I’m doing my bit to support a local charity.

‘We of course follow all the latest government guidelines including wearing PPE and washing or sanitising our hands at regular intervals, so you can rest assured that you will be warmly welcomed and feel safe and confident whilst you volunteer here.’

Find out more about volunteering opportunities at Blythe House.

After the announcement about a second national lockdown on 31.10.2020, some quotes or sentences in Judy’s story below may seem incorrect/ unsuitable,  however please note that Judy’s story was written in September 2020, after she had returned to her volunteering role at our Buxton shop following the first COVID-19 lockdown. 

Judy Gill started to volunteer at our Buxton charity shop around four years ago, after accessing support from the hospice following her partner, Jeff’s lung cancer diagnosis. The Hospice at Home team provided care to Jeff before he sadly died, and Judy was also able to seek support from our counselling and bereavement team.

Judy, who’s from Buxton, said: ‘I first had dealings with Blythe House when Jeff had lung cancer; their help was invaluable. After he died, I had a few counselling sessions and attended a bereavement class, which was just what I needed at that time. It was a great help in coming to terms with my loss.

‘When I retired, I decided I would like to return their kindness by volunteering at the Buxton charity shop.  I contacted Marie, the manager, and soon began my training.  I found her very helpful and easy to work with.  As I didn’t really want to work with the public after doing it for much of my working life, I elected to work on sorting the numerous donations.  It is a mammoth task but almost like Christmas, waiting to see what could be in the bags donated! I always work on a Wednesday afternoon so work with the same great group of volunteers each week. We have plenty of laughs! My neighbour, Alison is a fellow volunteer and we both work together sorting clothing.

‘Being over 70 and at risk, when the shop was preparing to open after COVID restrictions were lifted, I felt quite unsure about returning safely to do my job.  However, I need not have worried.  I called in to see the safety precautions that had been put in place, and felt quite happy to return safely.  A number of volunteers had done a wonderful job in re-arranging the shop to a safe standard.  I really enjoy working at the Buxton shop so had missed it during lockdown. It is great to be back!

‘I would encourage anyone who thinks they might like to find out more about becoming a Blythe House retail volunteer, to get in touch for an informal chat. The atmosphere here is easy going and relaxed – and I work with lovely people. I would definitely recommend it to any prospective volunteers who want to give something back to their local community.’

Find out more about volunteering roles across our local community.

Alison King has supported the hospice in several roles since she began volunteering at our Buxton shop back in January 2019.

The Buxton resident volunteers her time at the shop on Eagle Parade every week, as well as posting regular photos on Blythe House’s Instagram page. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Alison was a key volunteer in the community, helping to deliver support leaflets across her hometown, and supporting her neighbours who were shielding.

Alison said: ‘I have always volunteered my time in schools since my children were little, but as they’ve got older, my focus shifted and I spoke to my neighbour and fellow volunteer, Judy, to find out more about opportunities at the hospice.

‘It is great to support a local cause and we are such a good team here at the shop – there is great camaraderie. Pre-COVID, we would go out to celebrate birthdays and Christmases together.

‘The shop was shut for many weeks during the lockdown, so I was able to support the hospice by delivering Here to Help leaflets in my local area. These leaflets provided details of how the hospice could help people who were elderly, vulnerable or isolated during the pandemic, including with deliveries of shopping and medical supplies, amongst other things.

‘During the height of the lockdown, with my husband and three children all working and schooling at home, it was great to get out on my daily exercise with a purpose, and I’d be able to stop and have socially-distanced chats with people about Blythe House. I also helped with elderly neighbours including picking up essential items from the shops, as they didn’t leave their homes for many weeks.

‘Marie, the Buxton shop manager, set up a What’s App group for all shop volunteers as a way of keeping us informed, but it quickly became a way of keeping everybody’s spirits up and sharing silly jokes. We all missed being in the shops and that definitely helped.

‘When the shop reopened post-COVID, I was slightly apprehensive about returning to my volunteering role, but I needn’t have been worried. As soon as I came in, I saw that everything is so well organised; the hospice has done everything it can to ensure both volunteers and customers feel as safe as possible in the shop.

‘I work mainly in the cellar, sorting through donations and preparing them for sale. I also sometimes work on the shop floor including organising and sorting things, and serving customers. I love my role looking through items that have been kindly donated, because you honestly never know what you’re going to find! Only the other day, we found a crinoline: an item that goes underneath a dress or skirt to hold it out, and give it a fuller effect. We laughed and said we could all do with wearing one, as it would definitely help us with social distancing! That is the great thing about charity shops, if you go in with a specific item in mind, you should always ask, because nine times out of ten, there will probably be one in the back.

‘The pandemic has given people time and space to think about what’s important to them, and volunteering definitely makes me feel happy. Unfortunately but understandably, several volunteers have decided not to return to their roles following lockdown, for their own personal and health reasons, so we need some new faces here in Buxton and in the other hospice shops.

‘The great thing about volunteering here is that it’s so friendly and flexible – if something doesn’t suit you, you can change to work around your own commitments. More and more people will need support from Blythe House in the future, and it’s so great to be able to play my part in helping local patients and families.’

Follow Blythe House on Instagram to see some of Alison’s posts.

Find out more about volunteering at Blythe House.

With the charity shops being closed, treasure hunting had to come to a stop, at least for a while! I did however have the opportunity to deal with some bequests and look through some old stock as well as getting some pre-lockdown treasures to look at.

A strange old coin?

Looking through a box of donated old coins is the sort of thing I found myself doing in lockdown. One coin caught my eye amongst the piles of pre-decimalisation pennies. About the size of a 1p coin it isn’t actually a coin at all, but a token.

I had come across this sort of token before from time to time, and recognised it as an old ‘pub token’ probably from the mid-19th century. Previous experience has shown that these are quite collectable.

Tokens of this sort were issued by pubs as a sort of currency for pub games or to buy drinks. This one was local as it had the pub name “Dog and Partridge” and even the address 24 Oldham Road, Manchester and the name of the publican (T. Lomas) stamped on the coin. The pub appears to be long gone now.

I wasn’t sure what this was worth but put it up for auction on eBay. I was surprised that it attracted 5 bids and sold for £36!

Telescope from Nelsons era

Another item donated at the Whaley Bridge Shop was an old battered telescope.

Mostly made of wood but with brass fittingS, this looked like an interesting find. Unfortunately, it had no makers’ marks or owners’ marks anywhere which made it difficult to research. Luckily I found a UK specialist website that had a lot of information about old telescopes and from this site I was able to find enough information to determine that the telescope was probably an old British Naval telescope probably from around 1790. This was of course the era of Nelson’s early career.

I was surprised to find that the telescope still worked after a fashion, producing a small but reasonably clear image in the eyepiece.

This sort of telescope can be quite valuable but the lack of any makers’ marks, owners’ marks or other provenance made this item less collectable and harder to sell. It was placed on eBay as an auction item and I was quite pleased that it fetched £85.

Subsequently I discovered that the high bidder was the same person who was responsible for the collector’s website I had used to research the telescope. When he bid on the item, he had no idea I was using his site for research! I now have another contact who can provide expert advice on future telescope finds!

Visit our eBay site.

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.’

Former nurse Liz Burns became a Blythe House Community Volunteer in 2018, supporting patients in the comfort of their own homes with light tasks and companionship. Here, Liz has taken the time to write a blog about the volunteer work she’s been undertaking during the coronavirus pandemic, including supporting hospice patients and members of our local community…

Since the coronavirus outbreak and the adaptation of our roles to support people in the wider community, I am currently supporting three people – usually on different days, but occasionally two visits can occur on the same day.

Liz outside The Christie

An account of one such day – My first job was to take a patient to The Christie Hospital. After checking my bag and cleaning the contact areas of the car, I drove to the address, putting on my gloves and mask before arrival. We have been getting to know each other over the previous few weeks and during the drive to The Christie we chatted – the car is quite an intimate space and not being in direct eye contact can sometimes be less intimidating. The conversation flowed – we talked about ‘this and that’ – gardening, how life has changed since the pandemic, shopping, thoughts about illness, treatments and practicalities, the wonderful Spring that we had been having… I dropped the patient off at the entrance and went to the car park where I was amongst many other drivers in their cars waiting for their person – quite a community really… On this occasion, the appointment was short and we were soon on our return journey.

After saying goodbye, I had a short break before wiping down the car again and set off for the next assignment. This person who lives alone has been ‘shielding’ due to an existing illness that would make them particularly susceptible to Covid-19. This has caused a practical issue that their young dog was not able to get his usual walks. A great job for a dog lover and he is an absolute delight who just loves to be out – as they say it is a ‘Win-Win’ for all three of us! On our return as I am cleaning his harness and lead it was time to chat with the person in the garden – hopefully bringing the everyday in and sharing our love of dogs has helped to make what is a pretty isolated time just a little less so.

Blythe House community volunteer, Jon Davey first found out about the hospice in 2009, after his prostate cancer diagnosis. The Buxton resident regularly attended our monthly prostate cancer support group and continues to come along to the weekly mindfulness meditation sessions.

Jon, who’s a keen long distance walker, explained: ‘I am aware of what’s going on at Blythe House with visiting so regularly, and so I found out about the community volunteer programme. Volunteering was really just something I fancied doing; I have always volunteered my time in my local community and I recognised the fact that I missed doing this. I like being with people and talking to them. The opportunity to join the community volunteer programme came up, and I recognised that I needed this fulfilment so I signed up.

‘I found the volunteer training really useful; it refreshed skills I have already, and taught me new ones. Since June 2019, I have been supporting a patient in Chapel-en-le-Frith, providing companionship, and carer respite breaks so that the patient’s wife can pop out to run errands, go shopping or meet friends. We talk often about walking; he recalls memories of the war; and we discuss things like decorating and electricals, as well as our families and children.

‘On three occasions, I’ve been on hand to help with immediate need for carer breaks, where partners or carers have needed to leave quickly, so I’ve been able to step in to sit with the patient for a few hours.

‘I really like meeting new people, and I feel like I’ve been of use by helping out and feel very much a part of my local community. I have a real sense of fulfilment in my community volunteer role, and would definitely recommend it to other people who might have some spare time to help others in our area.’

Find out more about volunteering with us.

‘I really value the support from the community volunteer programme; Blythe House is a lifeline for me and my family.’

Janet with Ali

Chapel-en-le-Frith resident Janet Brindley was referred to Blythe House by her support worker in October 2018, after she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease earlier that year.

Janet, who was a very keen walker, said that looking back and thinking about it, she knew things weren’t quite right with her legs when she would climb over stiles and jump down, she was ‘not as bouncy’ as she used to be. The former GP surgery receptionist also noticed changes when she was driving, as she struggled to react and put her foot on the brake as quickly.

‘I never expected to be diagnosed with motor neurone disease,’ Janet explained. ‘I was having a lot of scans and X-Rays in 2017 as I was experiencing a lot of back pain. It wasn’t the usual pain that you get from doing the gardening; it was more severe and my doctor originally thought that I might have a trapped nerve. I was referred to a neurologist and underwent more tests; before being diagnosed around Easter-time 2018, the day before my birthday, which was the worst present!

‘I was then quickly referred to Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust where I had different meetings with a consultant, social workers, physiotherapists, speech therapists – all different people telling me about my prognosis and supporting me.

‘When I was diagnosed, I was still walking around unaided. Then over the last 18 months, I have progressively gone from using a walking stick, then a four-wheeled walker, then I fell in May 2019 and fractured my ankle, and since then I have been using a wheelchair. At first, I was still maintaining my independence, but now, I am deteriorating and rely very much on other people; I cannot get on and off chairs or my wheelchair on my own, and need a lot of assistance. I have also noticed recently that my arms are not as strong as they used to be. I have the amazing support of my husband, David, who still works full-time alongside caring for me, and help from close friends who keep me company.

‘I knew about Blythe House before my referral as I attended a few sessions around 10 years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Back then, I met with Ann Cawthorn [who is now a Blythe House trustee], who provided advice and support, and enjoyed complementary therapies, but I didn’t go to the groups as I was too poorly from my chemotherapy.

‘When my support worker suggested Blythe House in 2018, I was happy to go along to the Living Well service. I didn’t attend the service beforehand, but having been now, I know it’s absolutely not what I expected and I really enjoy going every Wednesday, and depend greatly on the support from the staff and other service users.

‘I think the physiotherapy service at Blythe House is marvellous. I am now very limited with choosing footwear that fits my feet as they have become very stiff and often swollen. I also wear a splint on my right ankle as this has become very weak since the fracture last May. You just do not even realise the types of things you’ll need to consider after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Tina [Blythe House physiotherapist] helps to manipulate my feet and legs; I didn’t see her for a few weeks and they felt so stiff, but after seeing Tina she really helps to ease the pressure and I feel so much more comfortable.

‘Through attending Living Well and chatting to my key worker about other support available, she suggested the community volunteer programme, where a Blythe House volunteer would be able to come to my home and help out with tasks and activities. I met Ali one day in the summer when I was at the hospice; we had a chat and Ali said she’d be able to support me however I wanted.’

Ali Dronfield-Boyd became a community volunteer in June 2018 after taking early retirement. She explained: ‘At that point, it was summer, so the first few times I went around to Janet’s house, I was able to help with activities like mowing the lawn, tidying the garden, planting flowers and pruning the roses. It was lovely as Janet was able to sit out in the garden with me, and we could natter away as I was getting on. I always say to Janet that I don’t do things for her, I do things with her.

‘Another task we carried out together was to help make the kitchen more accessible to Janet in her wheelchair, so we moved the tea cups and mugs from the top shelf of a high cupboard, to a low-down drawer which Janet is able to quickly and easily pull open. I also moved a table from outside to in the kitchen; it sits at just the right height for Janet’s wheelchair meaning that she is able to do some artwork including hand painted coasters. I also do the ironing, as this is something that Janet can no longer carry out.

‘The best thing about all the support is the companionship that Janet and I have struck up. We are in a similar age group, we have similar aged children, and have been on holidays to the same places; we remember a lot of things and like to reminisce.’

Janet added: ‘It is so nice to have someone you know coming over to provide regular support. Even if there’s not a lot to do, it’s just nice to chat; like having a good neighbour over. I really value the support from the community volunteer programme; Blythe House is a lifeline for me and my family.’

*Feature image shows some of Janet’s hand painted coasters

More information about the community volunteer programme.


Ali Dronfield-Boyd became a Blythe House community volunteer in June 2019 after retiring early and proactively looking for volunteering opportunities to do ‘something valuable.’

Ali, who hails from Buxton, is currently providing support in the home of a local patient who has motor neurone disease. She explained: ‘I took early retirement in June 2018 and after 12 months of spending time at home I decided that I wanted to do something valuable for myself and to help others. I also wanted to help those people in real need; I lost my mum to cancer 10 years ago, we lived in Glossop at the time, and wished there was a similar service available to support her. I looked at the Blythe House website and decided to apply for the community volunteer programme.

‘I enrolled onto the training sessions for the programme, and it was much more valuable than I anticipated. It not only provided me with all the knowledge and tools to do the volunteer role, it was invaluable personally and very thought provoking. I constantly think about the content and I often refer back to the materials and ensure that I use the learning every time I provide support. The key aspects for me are to ensure confidentiality, to be respectful, and to work within appropriate boundaries.

‘Since completing the training, I have looked after one particular patient whose needs have changed constantly over the last six months. I support with a variety of things including improving accessibility to make life easier, for example, moving items in the kitchen to a lower level. I have helped with walking the dog; ironed clothes, as this has become a task the individual can no longer carry out; and undertaken some gardening tasks. The main thing during all this is the companionship; we chat and enjoy each other’s company.

‘I have also provided support on an ad-hoc basis; for example sitting and providing companionship whilst the wife of the patient had respite time and enjoyed some complimentary therapies. I have also provided help within the Living Well day-care services at the hospice building.

‘I know that the service the community volunteer programme provides is invaluable to the patients we support; it’s a great team and I am very proud to be part of it. It’s personally very rewarding and basically makes me feel good that I can help and make someone’s life a little easier at a time when they most need it.

‘Vicci and Julie are great ambassadors for Blythe House and are always there when I need anything. The programme is a massive support to people who need it and is extremely personally rewarding. It’s the best thing I have ever done with my time and I am hoping to offer more of my time in the forthcoming months. I would say that even the smallest amount of time that can be provided is very much appreciated.’

From time to time we find interesting antique or vintage items that prove to be very difficult to identify.

Recently I came across a finely carved small wooden item which seemed to have some sort of electrical connections and attachments.

Towards the bottom there seems to be an area cut to take 10 or 12 turns of fine wire which is now missing. The middle has a strange spring-loaded spoon-shaped object held by the spring against a horizontal thick wire rod.

There are 2 electrical contacts on the base and a number of small insulated holes in the top of the object. This object is only about 6” across.

I am totally unable to figure out what this is. I suspect it may possibly be part of an old antique radio but this is just a guess. Anyone have any ideas?