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“Great satisfaction from making a small positive difference”

13th December 2019

Following my retirement after a happy 40 year career in engineering and science, in which I worked in the UK, Europe and the USA, with occasional exciting stints in more exotic locations,  I felt that I needed a new challenge which would keep me both fit and mentally stimulated. Having sorted out the veg patch!

I was looking for a useful role to serve in the community . Around the same time a friend, with a life limiting illness was admitted to St Richard’s Hospice in Worcester. I visited him a number of times before he passed away and was impressed with the level of care that he received from both the paid staff and volunteers working on the in-patient unit.

Their positive attitude and willingness to ensure that help was available for the patient and relatives was clear. The building too, was designed with great thought. There are 17 in-patient spaces, each room, with windows set at bed height,  looking out onto a beautiful garden and lake with individual patios for the beds to be wheeled out in sunny weather.  I decided that a voluntary post within the St Richard’s organisation would be appropriate.

Every year St Richard’s provides free expert care and support for over 3400 patients, their loved ones and the bereaved. Most patients attend the Living Well Centre for the day or sessions and classes or are cared for at home but  the In-patient Unit allows patients to receive palliative and end of life care, pain management or symptom control.

Hospice care is based on a holistic individualised approach and 900 active volunteers support the hospice providing practical help with patients in their own homes, in the In-patient Unit and the Living Well Centre as well as in the community.  Having decided to volunteer I then had to decide upon  a role which would be useful and give me a level of satisfaction. A visit to the hospice showed me the wide range to choose from.

Following attendance at an introductory course at the hospice I was drawn towards working on the In-patient unit as a hospitality assistant. In this role I work  from 10am until 2.30pm and after liaising with the nursing staff and the catering team discuss menu options with the patients. The aim being to give the patients the option of a three-course meal individually cooked  by the catering team and served one course at a time as required. Whilst  multi-choice daily menus are followed it is always possible for the catering staff to cook something special to encourage a patient to eat a little, be it a small piece of fish or  Cheesy Chips!  This is particularly important for patients with reduced or special dietary needs.

The role is rewarding  and gives plenty of opportunity to talk to patients, relatives and staff,  but can be emotionally challenging. Good communication skills including listening skills  and being physically fit are essential.  The hospice provides appropriate training including some excellent ‘Communication in palliative care’ courses  which have given me skills useful for everyday life too. The role requires at least 2 volunteers every day and I whilst I can choose my working days I tend to work weekends, partly because of a shortage  of weekend volunteers and partly to avoid having to go shopping on a Saturday!

Personally I gain great satisfaction from making a small positive difference to patients and relatives at a time of great difficulty. Sometimes just seeing a different face or having a chat with a different person may help  and I am always humbled by the dignity, courage and gratitude demonstrated by patients and their relatives.  Whilst I appreciate that this role is not suitable for everyone it is an amazing opportunity to give something back to an organisation that makes a real difference to people at a time of great change. I’m glad that I found such a worthwhile job which helps me grow as a person too.

Colin Rowley