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?



Recently donated to our Buxton shop was a small book of children’s nursery rhymes.

The title was Mother Goose and it was beautifully illustrated in colour by Kate Greenaway. Each page was of a children’s nursery rhyme with a full colour illustration. Condition was quite good with a few bits of damage from use over the years. Some research soon established that this is a first edition published in 1881.  As a first edition in good condition it seemed to have a fairly high value in the £50 to £100 price range. As is usually the case, a copy with its original dust jacket (which our copy unfortunately didn’t have) would have been closer to £1,000! This would be a good find for the hospice as a standard, reasonably valuable first edition but a bit of additional research threw up some more interesting history about this particular copy. The additional research was prompted by a couple of owner’s names and short inscription at the front of the book:

I always find early book inscriptions interesting as they can occasionally add history to a book.  Luckily there was quite a bit of information tucked away in these inscriptions that enabled me to find out more about the history of this book. Starting the with main inscription we have: ‘Stephan Frederick Fremantle with a kiss from Aunt Fanny Jan 14th 1882.’

A quick search on the internet quickly uncovered a Frederick Fremantle who was born on January 14th 1881 so the inscription in the book would fit if the book was given as a present on the day of his first birthday.

The second name in the book looks like A.M.Parry although this isn’t certain due to the interpretation of the handwriting. Some research on the internet shows that Stephan Frederick Fremantle had an elder sister called Anna Mary Fremantle who went on to marry Sir Frederick Sydney Parry in 1891 and thus became Anna Mary Parry, or A.M. Parry.

The above had a son in 1893, William Edward Parry, and a daughter in 1895, Katherine Parry.  The interesting conclusion comes when you investigate the son of Anna Mary Parry, William Edward Parry, who became a famous naval hero in World War Two, when he was commanding HMNZS Achilles at the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939. This battle is described in Wikipedia as follows: ‘The Battle of the River Plate was the first naval battle in the Second World War and the first one of the Battle of the Atlantic in South American waters. The German heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee had cruised into the South Atlantic a fortnight before the war began, and had been commerce raiding after receiving appropriate authorisation on 26 September 1939. One of the hunting groups sent by the British Admiralty to search for Graf Spee, comprising three Royal Navy cruisers, HMS Exeter, Ajax and Achilles (the last from the New Zealand Division), found and engaged their quarry off the estuary of the River Plate close to the coast of Uruguay in South America.’

This battle was made famous by the 1956 film ‘The Battle of the River Plate,’ (in the film William Edward Parry was played by Jack Gwillim). William Edward Parry went on to become Admiral Sir William Edward Parry. He died in 1972 .

So in conclusion, in addition to being a rare first Edition of Mother Goose, this book, when read to him as a child by his mother, undoubtedly inspired the young Admiral Sir William Edward Parry to his great achievements (OK, this may be going a bit too far, but you never know!). We will put it on auction on eBay shortly and see what it fetches!

By Laurence Carr, volunteer eBay seller for Blythe House:

We receive quite a few photographs in albums, framed under glass or loose. Over the last couple of months I have had the opportunity to look in detail at a range of interesting photographs and learn more about their value and collectability.

In a previous post I talked about a book of old 17th century prints donated to the Whaley Bridge Shop. What I didn’t say is that as well as the 30 prints in the book there was also an old photograph slipped inside the book, presumably for safe keeping. The photograph appeared to have no connection with the old prints so I removed it from the book and put it to one side.

On closer inspection the photograph, mounted on thin card, was obviously quite old and had some interesting characteristics. The print had the appearance of what is known as an “Albumen Print” this is described on the web as follows:  Albumen prints are a variety of photographic paper print in which a finely divided silver and gold image is dispersed in a matrix of egg white. It is possible to recognise albumen prints from their colour, texture and light reflection characteristics. Most prints of this type date from the second half of the 18th century.

The print itself showed an obviously Victorian gentlemen standing in front of an old ruined building. On first glance the building was not possible to identify nor was it possible to even identify the country where the photo was taken.

Closer inspection of the mount revealed an embossed seal. The seal was for the “Architectural Photographic Association” and had the number 180 had written in the centre. This indicated that the photo was possibly part of a Victorian photo library relating to architecture. Research turned up very little information about Architectural Photographic Association except that it seems to have been active in the 1850s and 60s.

Despite the limited results of our research it seemed possible the photo might have some value so it was put up for auction on eBay. It attracted a number of bids and sold for £36 which was quite a good price for an old photo found in a book!

Other photographs have also surprised me with their value. An old photograph album containing a large number of family photos recently turned up in our New Mills shop. This album contained photos which were in reasonable condition but the album itself was in a very poor state. I extracted most of the photos and decided to sell them in groups and individually.

Of particular interest were three photos of Victorian pets. One photo was of a dog, one of a pair of kittens and one of a dog on the lap of a girl. My previous experience is that Victorian animal photos are very popular and can sell for quite good prices so I listed these pictures separately from the general run of photographs. I was quite surprised when these three photos between them sold for nearly £50!

Finally in this brief review of old photos I will include a striking image I found in another photo album a few months back:

It jumped out at me for its sheer exuberance and fun. Two young men on bicycles having a great time. I couldn’t determine when or where this photo was taken but it seems to be late 19th or early 20th century. Other photos in the album suggest the early 20th century and a location of Austria or possibly Hungary. Most antique photos are posed and restrained. This one however managed to bring out a moment of excitement and joy that was very unusual. A unique and interesting moment in history but who were they? I was also puzzled by how this photo was taken, was it from the back of an old car or cart and if so how did the photographer get such a dynamic shot and such a remarkable composition with the old camera he must have been using! We will probably never know.

By Laurence Carr, volunteer eBay seller for Blythe House:

Charity shops receive lots of china bowls plates etc. Every now and then something special crops up. In our Buxton shop one of our volunteers spotted an unusual bowl amongst the donations and passed it over to me in case it might be special.

The bowl had a strange design as can be seen from the above photo. At first glance it was difficult to determine its purpose. It was however in excellent condition and it appeared to be hand painted. With all porcelain, the first thing to do is look at the base for any marks. This bowl provided a lot of information on its underside:

Turning to our friend the internet it was quickly established that the bowl was hand made and hand painted by ISIS ceramics in Oxford. It was apparently made in 1996 by an artist called Deborah Sears. It was known as a “colander bowl”. The company is still very active today, its website states:

Deborah Sears founded Isis Ceramics, when inspired by her own collection of 17th and 18th century English Delftware; she wanted to see the mark of the painters hand rather than the stamp of mass production. Highly collectable, each Isis Ceramics piece is hand-painted and hand made by skilled artists in Horton-Cum-Studley near Oxford, England.

Once we had established the correct description for this item we were able to list it on eBay with a full description. It sold quickly for £95 to a customer in the United States.

Betty and her husband, Tony have volunteered for Blythe House since 2009, after they relocated to the High Peak from Peterborough.

The couple had heard lots about Blythe House during many years holidaying in the area, visiting Tony’s auntie. When they moved here, they knew that they wanted to do something to help.

Betty – who had a career in youth work, community education and adult literacy, including mentoring people learning English as a second language – is also a member of Chapel-en-le-Frith’s Women’s Institute and the town’s Ladies Choir.

She said: ‘I started at Blythe House’s shop in Chapel-en-le-Frith but moved over to Whaley Bridge where I volunteer once a week on a Tuesday. I also help on an ad-hoc basis if there’s any shifts that need covering, and I offer to help out if Anne [Whaley Bridge shop manager], is away on holiday.

‘I work in the sorting room, looking through all of the donations that come through the door. It’s exciting as you never quite know what you’re going to find. I especially enjoy looking through the birc-a-brac as I have a little bit of knowledge of antiques from when I was younger, when I’d look round antique shops with my older brother.

‘The great thing about volunteering here is the camaraderie; I love meeting people, chatting face to face. The friendships made are another good aspect of this role; I have made really good friends here. At the end of our shifts, we try to head out to have lunch together; it is a really nice way to wind down as we’re so busy on our feet throughout the morning.

‘My husband, Tony is a volunteer driver; he picks up and drops off patients who would otherwise struggle to make it to appointments and other services at the hospice. He is also one of the PAT (portable appliance testing) testers for any electrical equipment that is donated to Whaley Bridge shop.

‘A little anecdotal story; Tony and I would regularly walk around the reservoir at Combs and often stop to chat to a lady walking her dog. We later found out that the lady was in fact Revered Betty Packham, who founded Blythe House, so it’s a very small world!

‘If you have just moved into the local area and you’re looking to meet new people and make friends, volunteering for Blythe House is a great way to do so. Getting involved at Blythe House shops has enabled me to enjoy other groups in our community, including the WI. It is a worthy role and I know that I’m giving something back to support a local hospice.’

It is a bit of a family affair for Alex Clark, her parents, auntie, husband, niece and daughters, who all support Blythe House Hospicecare by giving their time to volunteer in many ways. Alex, who’s from Buxton, explains more…

‘It was back in 2011 when my Mum, Brenda noticed that Blythe House’s Buxton shop was closed on Wednesdays because unfortunately the team just didn’t have enough volunteer capacity to be able to open it. I had recently been made redundant and Mum said to me: “We could do that!” so we got in touch with Blythe House, and offered our support on Wednesdays. We started volunteering in May 2011 doing Wednesday mornings, but then we started to stay all day. Even when more volunteers came on-board, we’d stick around and support them.

‘My auntie, Hilary has volunteered her time at Chapel-en-le-Frith shop since it opened. The three of us have taken a stall to the annual Dickensian Market in Buxton for the last five years and we’ve really enjoyed pulling together knickknacks and gifts from each shop to sell to raise hospice funds. We hosted a stall at Blythe House’s Christmas Fair in 2017, and it was such a success that someone suggested we attend the hospice’s coffee mornings on the third Friday of every month, so in April 2019 we started to come along to those too. The coffee morning stalls have been so popular with guests, and from July to November 2019, we have raised over £922!

‘I love volunteering at the shop and hosting stalls in the local community as it’s so nice to meet and chat to customers. The same people come to see you every week – we get regular customers who like to ask your opinion of what they look like in clothes they’re trying on! We have a regular lady who visits us from Stoke, and another from Glossop.

Alex and her mum Brenda met Matt Baker at Countryfile Live – a day event kindly organised by Smiths of Marple for Blythe House volunteers and staff

‘My Mum has always worked in customer service roles and she loves chatting to people. My Dad, Bob helped to relocate the shop when we moved from the old premises, including painting and decorating, and my husband, Kev is the go-to ‘shop handyman,’ helping to fix things and change light bulbs. My daughters, Lizzie and Lucy, and niece, Annabelle have also supported the shop during their summer holidays from sixth form and university over the years.

‘Volunteering for Blythe House is really good fun and sociable, everyone is so friendly. You can see the results here and you really know that you’re doing something to help. I know several people who’ve benefitted directly from Blythe House; nobody wants to have to access the services here but knowing they are there if they are needed is very comforting and they make a huge difference to so many local people.’