Former nurse Liz Burns started to volunteer her time at Blythe House in August last year; she became one of the hospice’s first ever community volunteers, after undertaking training for the brand new programme that had launched earlier in 2018.

The Hope resident explains why she got involved: ‘I wanted to be of some service to my community, to have a sense of purpose and get some structure into my life having returned to the UK in November 2017, after being an ex-pat for the previous nine years.

‘Prior to that, I had worked for 34 years full-time in the NHS having graduated as a nurse in 1979. Since 1981, I had worked almost exclusively in cancer nursing in a variety of posts; clinically as a hospital-based Cancer and Palliative Care Specialist Nurse, and as a researcher and lecturer in cancer nursing. I took early retirement to accompany my husband when his job took him overseas.

‘Since returning to the UK full-time I had felt the need to be “of some use,” and had been looking at how I may achieve that. Being involved again on a one-to-one basis with people with palliative care needs, albeit in a non-nursing capacity, seemed an obvious fit. Blythe House is our local hospice and a friend of mine who works at the hospice posted the advert for the new community programme on her Facebook page – this inspired me to get in touch and the rest, as they say, is history!

‘Tasks I have been involved in so far include companionship: a general term, but this is a key part of every assignment – listening and being with the person. Sometimes this is as simple as just watching a favourite TV programme, chatting about it, and the inconsequentialities of everyday life. Sometimes listening to the person’s more complex and emotional concerns of how they are experiencing what is happening to them, as well as their worries and fears.

‘I have cooked meals for a family; taken patients grocery shopping and assisted them with wheelchairs in shops, driving and unpacking; collected prescriptions from the pharmacy, and undertook other small errands during my visits including going to the post office, making hot drinks, and writing addresses on envelopes for someone who had difficulty writing.

‘I have also helped with dog walking and gardening; for one patient cutting back overgrown areas, digging and weeding so that they could sit out and enjoy their garden. For another patient I have mowed lawns, weeded and cut hedges.

‘If you want to be of service to your community, enjoy being in the company of others and helping folk who are in a difficult place and could really do with a helping hand, then I would definitely recommend the community volunteer programme!’

Find out more and get involved.

 

Tom Craig has volunteered at Blythe House during his summer holidays from The University of Manchester, where he is studying a biomedical science degree.

The 22-year-old, who hails from Hayfield but lives in a shared house in Fallowfield, Manchester during term time, says it’s worth volunteering at Blythe House because ‘you can really feel like you are making a difference.’

Here, Tom explains more about his summer of volunteering…

‘I have finished my second year at university this summer, and in a couple of weeks I will start the third and final year of my degree. A lot of my degree involves learning about human biological processes, and how these processes can go wrong in various diseases. However, I have decided to apply to study Medicine as a graduate entry applicant, mainly because I really would like be able to have direct contact with patients, and hopefully be able to combine my interest for science and biology, in a role where being able to talk to and help people is so important.

‘As a volunteer at Blythe House, I have been talking to patients in the Living Well day-care service, in a befriending role; playing a part in trying to make sure that people feel welcome, and helping to serve refreshments. I have really enjoyed it, I have spoken to so many interesting people, and it has been an incredibly inspiring experience. I would definitely say that this was a highlight of my time in the hospice.

‘I have also had the opportunity to shadow the nurses in the hospice, which I am really grateful for. Because my degree at the moment is a science degree, instead of a healthcare, I have not been in a healthcare environment before, and it was really inspiring to be able to experience this. I have also been able to experience some of the complimentary therapies that are on offer in the hospice, and other components of the Living Well service, such as mindfulness and meditation, as well as art therapy, which is offered to patients.

‘I have also been able to spend some time in the information and support centre; there is such large a range of support on offer, and this was also really interesting and inspiring to be able to see the amount of dedication that is given to helping to improve people’s quality of life.

‘I would completely recommend Blythe House to anybody that is considering volunteering here. It has been a really good experience; if my university term was not starting soon I would have loved to stay for longer. It has made me realise that I definitely would like to work in healthcare in the future, but mainly it has been incredibly rewarding and satisfying to feel that you are hopefully making a small difference to somebody’s life. Just being somebody who a patient can talk to about some of the difficulties that they are facing, or simply a chat about a random topic, or helping to clean the teacups at the end of the day, it is worth volunteering here simply because you can really feel like you are making a difference.

‘I am really grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at the hospice, and hopefully I will be able to help out again at some point in the future. I can’t thank the staff and other volunteers enough for the opportunity.’

Find out more about volunteering at Blythe House.

Rachel Dennett got involved with Blythe House’s community volunteer programme in February 2019 because she wanted to give something back to the community.

The Glossop resident explained: ‘My father died last year. In his last few days he was cared for by the Shakespeare Hospice at Home team in Stratford. I saw what a massive difference these carers made to both him and the rest of the family. Their support made an awful situation more bearable.

‘I was in a position where my children needed me less, giving me some spare time. I wanted to give something back to the community.

‘Since I underwent the training, I have been able to provide companionship for a local patient, and respite care for their carer. I also support them in a number of practical ways such as ironing, changing beds, shopping, cooking meals along with being someone to talk, and sometimes cry, with.

‘This volunteering role gives me the chance to help others in a very rewarding way.
Although it is often sad, I leave after each visit with a sense of achievement; I am making the dreadful situation a bit more bearable for the patient and their husband and that makes me feel like I’m making a real difference.

‘It’s a really satisfying and interesting role and I’d thoroughly recommend it. The training sessions were really helpful and often entertaining too!’

Find out more about the community volunteer programme.

John Baker got involved with the hospice’s community volunteer programme in February 2019, after seeing an article in a local newspaper about Blythe House.

The Taddington resident explained: ‘Having been looking to volunteer “somewhere,” I read with growing interest a feature on Blythe House in the Buxton Advertiser that detailed the history, current status and aspirations for the future. I was intrigued…what could a retired sales manager possibly bring to a community volunteer programme at a hospice?

‘The answer and what actually inspires me is the opportunity to bring some “normality” into patient’s lives, and the lives of their family, by providing simple basic support, also the terrific “buzz” you get by the simple act of a helping hand.

‘I have been indirectly supporting a patient recently by ensuring her husband had some respite, taking him shopping and for a coffee and a cheeky cake for just two hours each week. I know it has been greatly appreciated by the whole family.

‘Simply listening and offering a different environment for a couple of hours can and does make a massive difference within a difficult situation.

‘To encourage other people like myself to become community volunteers, I would say: remember you’re helping people whilst they are enduring difficult times, which for me is a very fulfilling experience. Just give it a try; you may even surprise yourself.’

Find out more about the community volunteer programme.

Maggie started volunteering at Blythe House in 2005 as a housekeeper, but soon moved into a befriending role to welcome and chat to patients in the Living Well service, and offering support in their own homes.

Maggie also supported the counselling team with paperwork; ensuring systems were in place on both paper and the computer, to support busy caseloads.

The children’s counselling and bereavement services began in 2006 – the first one in the High Peak – and was one of the first of its kind in the country. Dave Oldham visited different areas of the country to present talks on children’s services at Blythe House, and Maggie continued to volunteer for two days per week alongside the counselling team.

In 2007, Blythe House secured Children in Need funding specifically for children’s counselling services, which ensured full-time jobs for two members of staff. Maggie explained: ‘I went back to be a befriender in the new and revamped ‘Living Well’ service in 2010. It had changed no end; it was such a positive place and its whole outlook had changed, it was amazing what Ann Cawthorn had created.

‘After this I joined the Information and Support team, volunteering alongside Living Well service lead Ann Burgoyne. I then eventually moved on to help Catherine in the art therapy area shortly before I had to give up my volunteer role due to an ongoing health issue in 2015.

‘I’ll always remember the reason I continued volunteering at Blythe House for 10 years, and it was when one patient said to me: “When I come to Blythe House, all the chains fall off.” I knew I was doing something worthwhile.’

Gerard started volunteering in the Blythe House kitchen in 2014, before becoming a befriender in our Living Well service where he is able to provide practical and emotional support to patients, as well as have a jolly good chuckle with them too!

Gerard says: ‘When I started volunteering in the kitchen here, my wife thought it was absolutely hilarious! I have always helped with the housework at home, with cleaning and dusting, but I’ve never cooked!

‘After around three and a half years in the kitchen, I became a befriender which sees me welcoming patients to the Living Well service and helping them to settle in and feel comfortable. I help to provide practical and emotional support to patients, as well as serve refreshments, and just generally help to facilitate the smooth running of the service.

‘I have always believed in giving something back, especially to people who are going through difficult times; they need support and a place to share their concerns. Most of all they need to be listened to; very often people hear what you say but they don’t actually listen, so it’s very important to do so.

‘Around two years ago, I directed a staff and volunteer Christmas pantomime for patients. After being involved in the arts and drama for much of my life, it was great to feel that we were putting on such a fun and enjoyable show for them to enjoy. Wow, we had fun – it was hilarious! The following year, I read an abbreviated version of the Christmas Carol tale; complete with smoking jacket and glass of sherry!

‘I am now shadowing members of the spiritual care volunteer team, to learn more about its role in the organisation and how it supports patients. Spiritual care is not about religion or imposing your own beliefs, it’s about being there and above all, as I’ve said before: listening.

‘The whole volunteer team here at Blythe House are advocates of the organisation. It is a very happy to place to be and we have lots of fun. Volunteers are just ordinary people that care and want to help; to make a difference and to be a part of a team that is doing just that, is very fulfilling. I have made many wonderful friends here in the patients, staff and fellow volunteers; they are genuine friendships that mean something to me.’

Find out more about volunteering at Blythe House Hospicecare.

 

Audrey Bramah has been involved with volunteering at, and supporting, Blythe House since its inception in 1989.

The Chinley resident says: ‘When Blythe House first started, there was a small office near the church in Chapel-en-le-Frith. I couldn’t volunteer full-time then as I owned a restaurant but I would sell raffle tickets and host coffee mornings to help raise funds. I always felt this affiliation with the iconic idea of High Peak having its own hospice, and I knew that it was something that I wanted to be involved with.

‘I retired around the same time that the very first Blythe House charity shop was opening in Buxton and so I started to volunteer my time there, and soon after, the New Mills shop opened and I helped there too. I have also given my time at both the Chapel-en-le-Frith store and at the start of the very successful Whaley Bridge department store.

‘Later, when I entered the hospice building itself, and felt the warmth and compassion within their walls, I knew that I had found my niche. After a stint in the kitchen helping Jill [Blythe House’s cook], and another few months at the Whaley Bridge shop, I returned to the hospice itself as a Living Well Service volunteer.

‘Everybody who comes to Blythe House whether it’s for counselling, therapy or treatment, has a unique sensation and feeling of comfort and belonging. The staff here are all professional and dedicated to the well-being and emotional needs for every patient. The people who are involved here, including staff and volunteers, are a reflection on how special the hospice is; the welcome found here is like a big, embracing hug!’

Anni Bowden has volunteered in Blythe House Hospicecare shops since 2005, starting at the Chapel-en-le-Frith store on High Street, and now as one of the ‘Friday girls’ at Whaley Bridge’s Market Street department shop.

The Disley resident says: ‘I got involved with volunteering all those years ago alongside my two very good friends Sue Cooper and Jane Henry. We have all been affected by cancer, either through family or dear friends. Very sadly, Jane died in 2012; my brother also died from the dreadful disease, as well as other close friends. We wanted to show our support for Blythe House, and to demonstrate the love we have for our lost ones.

‘I saw Jane benefit from the services that Blythe House provides. Jane never attended the hospice directly, but the consultant doctor who was based there would go out to visit Jane in her home; she was also able to contact the hospice when she needed help or advice. This invaluable service enabled Jane to stay and die at home, just as she wished to.

Sue and Anni

‘My dear friend Sue and I look forward to our Friday mornings of volunteering. We have regular customers who pop in each week to see us and have a chat. We not only enjoy helping folk to buy different items, but we are also able to show our donators a good deal of gratitude for their generosity, which we find always encourages them to donate again. I feel that this shop acts as a charity twice-over – not only is it raising vital funds for the hospice, but it’s also supporting the local community.

‘We volunteers are drawn from a wide circle and so we all bring different talents and attributes to our sessions. Sue being a language teacher is able to ensure that our German, French and Welsh visitors are very welcome – our shop is a destination for many! I, being a retired occupational therapist, can offer support and often a bit of counselling to customers who are perhaps feeling a bit sad, poorly or lonely. We find that people confide in us because of the ethos of the hospice, and because of our life experiences and professions, we’re able to offer a little bit of support in their times of need. As well as customers, we volunteers also help and care for each other. A lot of volunteers use their time here as a haven; it provides such a special place for people to chat and offer support, in a non-judgmental way.

‘I mostly volunteer because I have such a satisfying morning knowing I am helping a great cause, but also because we have a good laugh together!’

Karan-Bradley-and-Alison-Trick

High Peak people with some spare time are being invited to find out more about volunteering with Blythe House Hospicecare.

There are lots of volunteering opportunities open to people aged 16 and over, including shop assistants, counsellors, drivers, caterers and fundraisers – and so many roles behind the scenes too.

Volunteer Karan Bradley (left, with patient, Alison) has given her time in a number of roles at Blythe House since 2010, during which she has supported the hospice’s creative arts programme, and the Whaley Bridge department store. Karan has recently become involved in the Community Volunteer Project, which sees her providing practical and emotional support to patients, family members and carers across the borough, in the comfort of their own homes.

The Hayfield resident says: ‘I think the wonderful thing about volunteering is that you’re just giving your time; you’re not doing anything particularly special. You’re listening, talking, making time and making a difference to people’s lives. Anyone can volunteer; you don’t have to have lots of experience or qualifications, you just have to be a compassionate person and be able to give a little or a lot of your time.

‘I can’t think of a better place than Blythe House to volunteer your time. It has such a wide base of opportunities, and there’s something for everyone, whether you’re looking to get back into work, you’re a student, recently retired – whatever your circumstances! You don’t need to be fearful; you’ll be made to feel so welcome and very much appreciated. I’d say don’t hesitate just go for it. If you’re anything like me, it might be the start of a very long and happy time in your life!’

Vicci Wild, Blythe House Hospice’s Community Volunteer Project Manager, added: ‘2019 sees the hospice celebrating 30 years of providing support to people across the High Peak. As we strive to continually meet the needs of our community, the project is initially funded by Macmillan and started last year, focusing very much on the Blythe House ethos of “Connecting our Community.” It is enabling us to support existing services, and provide volunteer support to patients in their own homes.’

One local family member who benefited from support commented: ‘I nearly cancelled the volunteer visit because I felt my house was in a mess, but the volunteer did not make me feel as though I was being judged, she helped me tidy up and get back on track.’

To find out more about volunteering opportunities:

  • Drop in to our informal information sessions at the hospice (Eccles Fold, SK23 9TJ) between 11am and 1pm on the second Monday of each month
  • Email: volunteering@blythehouse.co.uk
  • Call Vicci Wild or Julie Forrest on 01298 816990

Lifelong High Peak resident, Pat Eckersley got involved with volunteering at Blythe House’s department store in Whaley Bridge in 2010, after suffering from severe emotional and physical stress following a car accident. Pat’s sister, Lynne, gave her the encouragement she needed to walk through the door on her first day – and now she volunteers around five times per week!

Pat says: ‘Following a car crash, I was in a very vulnerable state and left my job. My sister Lynne volunteered for Blythe House and suggested I gave it a go, to help me build my confidence back up. On my first shift, I was a nervous wreck and was shaking uncontrollably, but the more I came, the more I realized how much I enjoyed myself.

‘I have always worked with people in my previous jobs, so being here gave me the opportunity to meet and chat to new and lovely people. I started out working in the old shop, now Finders Keepers in Whaley Bridge, and would undertake tasks including serving customers at the till, or sorting out donations. Lynne and I also used to PAT test all of the electrical goods that were donated.

‘When we came to the new shop, just a little bit further up Market Street, I also worked on the shop floor, but I found I enjoyed sorting through donations and so I started to volunteer more behind the scenes, as the resident “quality controller!” It’s my job to look through all of the clothes, bric-a-brac, furniture and other items that people donate, and get them ready to go out onto the shop floor to be sold. I furnished my whole new flat from this shop – including donating my old furniture, and swapping it for items that would be more appropriate for the room space.’

‘What I’d say to potential new volunteers is to give it a try! It might seem nerve-wracking at first but just give a go, and hopefully you’ll love it as much as I do. This role helps me, and I know that I’m helping other people in return – it’s a two way street. There’s also a very good team of volunteers here, we’re like family, and we support each other through the bad times and have a laugh through the good times too.’