Charlie Barnes became a community volunteer at Blythe House and Helen’s Trust in 2020, after previously volunteering as a humanist pastor at Manchester Royal Infirmary, following his retirement.

Charlie, who is from Chinley, explains: ‘When I decided to retire from my career in classical music back in 2016, I felt that I needed a new direction. Around the time I retired, I started training with Humanists UK. My time spent speaking to patients on hospital wards gave me a brief insight into how some individuals need that connection. Nobody wants to be away from home. This did prove difficult at times approaching patient’s bedsides and not knowing whether they wanted the company or not. The brief connections I made as a humanist pastor made me realise the value of volunteering in the care sector, and how the act of listening to someone can make all the difference.

‘When the first lockdown began in March 2020, hospital visitations were restricted, and my volunteering was put on hold. Once the initial weeks of lockdown had calmed down, I looked into other areas of voluntary work I could do. I joined Blythe House’s “Here to Help” drive during the Covid-19 restrictions, which involved contacting people who were experiencing loneliness. Since then, the Community Volunteer programme has returned to providing support and companionship for individuals with a life-limiting illness across the local community.

‘My volunteering can vary on a day-to-day basis. I may be offering a carer some respite by sitting with their loved one whilst the carer runs some errands, or driving a patient to hospital visits. I can see how it can benefit the carer as well as the patient to have a different face around; someone different to talk to who is not a loved one or a medical professional; that can be the distraction they may need from their circumstances.

‘The volunteer team is incredibly supportive through the training process and they check in on you regularly. They are your first point of call, and they are always there to listen to any concerns or queries you may have during your volunteer journey. I have found it instrumental to have Julie, the hospice’s volunteer manager, make the initial contact to patients because she establishes what their needs are, and how we can help them. This means that we are always putting the patient’s needs first, and I feel like I can put my best foot forward in supporting them.

‘When wearing my badge as a community volunteer, I feel a lot of pride and a sense of identity. It enables me to approach patients with a sense of purpose. I would class myself as a shy person, and in a new social setting, I am particularly reserved in many respects. But, I find that wearing my volunteer badge gives me a role and it defines me, giving me permission to meet patients.

‘I have made many meaningful connections during my time volunteering. For example, one particular patient who I had visited during his last year of life. When he died, his daughter reached out to me to let me know that my visits had a positive impact on her father. I will cherish the time spent with this genuine man and the good relationship I had created by visiting his home.

‘The biggest difference I can make between volunteering in a hospital and volunteering for a hospice is the lasting connections I have made with patients in the community. My time volunteering at the hospital gave me brief moments with people who I never saw again, and didn’t know how they were keeping. The hospital would define my visits, but volunteering for Blythe House and Helen’s Trust, you get to know someone in their personal surroundings in their home.

‘There is so much reward when volunteering. It is full of rich encounters that leave you with so much gratitude when spending time with each individual you meet. Sometimes it is simply the company that patients are looking for in your visits. Someone to listen to them. It gives you a chance to discover new parts of yourself that you may never thought you were capable of doing. I would recommend to anyone unsure whether to volunteer, to just give it a go.’

Learn more about the range of volunteer roles at Blythe House and Helen’s Trust – including the community volunteer programme – and apply online.