Monday, 27 September 2021

Volunteers who help make hospice home

FOR most of us, Christmas is a time for family. But for volunteers at Sue Ryder, the festive

FOR most of us, Christmas is a time for family. But for volunteers at Sue Ryder, the festive period will be spent helping others.

Dozens of them will be on duty with staff at the charity’s hospice in Nettlebed, so that the patients and their families can enjoy the holiday despite illness or disability.

One of those volunteers is Louise Townsend, from Pishill, who has worked as a receptionist at the hospice since 2004.

Mrs Townsend, 54, a freelance personal assistant and concierge, said: “I moved to the area in 2001 and wanted to get involved with the community because I didn’t know anyone when we moved here.

“I answer phones, greet families and friends and deal with admissions.

“I meet a lot of people. It’s important that they come in and feel relaxed so I greet them with a smile and friendly face. Hopefully, when they leave they have a smile.

“I really enjoy it and I wouldn’t have done it for so long if I didn’t. It’s like a family here and staff tend to stay a long time.

“It’s important to me to do the right thing. It’s not for everyone and some do fund-raising instead. There’s lots of different ways of getting involved.”

Mrs Townsend will spend Christmas Day morning at Joyce Grove before returning home for dinner with her husband Nick.

She said: “A hospice is not all doom and gloom, it’s fun, vibrant and happy and I feel privileged to be able to work here on Christmas Day.

“People can come in and bring their well-behaved pets, have a drink and be with their loved ones.

“I do my shift in the morning and when I get home my husband has cooked the Christmas dinner! He’s very relaxed and I’m lucky to have him. He supports me and I in turn support Sue Ryder.”

The volunteers support the hospice staff who also happily give up their Christmas to work at the hospice. Team leader Jo Morgan joined the hospice this year after 15 years as a district nurse, so is used to spending Christmas Day with patients.

Mrs Morgan, 51, from Aston, said: “I did lots of palliative care in the community, so I knew about Sue Ryder.

“It’s a privilege to work here, to have the time to administer individualised care.

“Sue Ryder is hugely important in supporting both patients and families.

“Christmas is a special time and the emphasis is what it means to patients and getting it right for them.”

Mrs Morgan said the hospice tries to grant the Christmas wishes of patients and their families, such as preparing special food and playing festive music, or not in some cases.

She said: “The families come in and we can make almost anything happen.

“Some like Christmas music and traditional food, whereas some don’t. It’s an individual thing and it’s important to find out from the patients what they want.

“It’s a privilege to work here and I can always have Christmas with my family at a different time.

“They are all hugely supportive of me and know how special it is to be here for these people.”

Ben Bar-Lev is a corporate fund-raiser for the Sue Ryder and Duchess of Kent hospices and spends most of his time at Joyce Grove.

Mr Bar-Lev 27, who lives in Dorchester with his wife Sarah, said: “I love it. I’ve been in the charity sector for more than 10 years now and the care industry is always in the news or being talked about.

“I’ve seen so many families coming here wondering how they are going to pay for it before realising they won’t have to.

“It’s important that we have this incredible service and that’s what gives me more impetus to go out and fund-raise. Illness and death affect us all and to have a place like Sue Ryder with incredible nurses and a team that is personable and loving is a celebration of life.

“There’s dignity and privacy and I’ve never before seen a place focus on that.”

Mr Bar-Lev and his wife will spend the evening of Christmas Day at the hospice helping to prepare food.

He, too, stresses that staff and volunteers will do whatever they can to make the festive period special for the patients.

He said: “It’s really important to have a place so inviting and physical spaces such as the family room, where you can shut the door to be together and have a glass of wine. It’s a home from home.

“People tend to think things about hospices but you’d be overwhelmed with how many people go home from here. It’s about providing and whatever we can do we will do it. If you would like a really nice bottle of wine or smoked salmon on Christmas Day we will get it. If you were to ask for a reindeer and snow we would try our best!”

Tracey Hancock, the charity’s head of fund-raising, said: “Volunteers are hugely important to us all year round, but particularly at Christmas.

“The hospice is open 365 days a year and operates as normal on Christmas Day.

“It can be a particularly difficult time for those using the hospice but we try to make sure it is a special day for the people here and their families.

“Volunteers come in and help serve Christmas lunch, while people like Louise are on the reception to greet visitors. We also have the staff who happily give up their time over Christmas.

“Volunteers tell us they find it hugely rewarding. A lot have used the hospice themselves and want to give back and say thank-you but many others just want to be involved in any way they can.

“We are indebted to these people and couldn’t continue without them.”

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