Volunteering, so good for you and others too ….

As we mark National Volunteers Week (1-7 June) I’ve been reflecting on my own volunteering journey, why I do it, what I get out of it and ultimately what I’ve learned from it to encourage others to volunteer too, so here goes ….

I think from a young age as the oldest child I was always the one who did things and helped people, it was inbuilt in me as the eldest of 4. I remember seeing an interview with Prince Phillip (I am a massive Royalist) where he talked about everyone having a sense of duty to society, that really resonated with me at the time and still does.  Even now I instinctively help old people to their cars with their shopping, crossing roads (whether they want to cross or not) and take time out to talk to older people in checkout queues conscious it may be their only interaction that day, (again whether they want to listen to me or not), but all do. My friends would describe me as a ‘doer’, if someone needs something, they will always come to me to help them and know I will help no matter how busy I am. I was always the one to organise Christmas parties (despite them being fraught with danger), charity raffles, and more recently virtual events to keep people motivated in lockdown and so volunteering was always part of my nature. But where to volunteer was a big decision as there were so many worthy causes …

Sadly, I’ve lost too many family members and good friends to Cancer, it’s an evil disease and so for the last 15 years I’ve been a volunteer receptionist on Saturday mornings at Trinity hospice in Blackpool. I still do this, but 3 years ago I was also honoured to be appointed as a voluntary Director and Trustee for the hospice. I’m a member of the Strategic Hospice Board which meets every 2 months, a member of the Fundraising and Retail committees and part of the recruitment panel for new Trustees. In addition, I lead their People agenda for 250 paid employees, and 700 volunteers as chair of the HR and Renumeration Board which meets every 2 months.

It’s quite daunting at times chairing the HR board where decisions made have such a huge impact on employee’s lives. If you told me 3 years ago on taking up the role the scale of the challenges, I would have seriously doubted my resilience and ability to do it, but I’m so glad that I did and have learned so much from the experiences. My board sets and agrees the annual pay award, ensures the pension scheme is fit for purpose, there is a clear reward and recognition strategy with processes to support it and agrees annual bonus payments. A very different role from my day to day one leading communications within a programme. Since taking on the chair role I have put wellbeing at the top of the people agenda, learning lessons from DWP and my board ensures it’s at the heart of everything we do.

I’m not an HR professional, hence why I doubted my ability, but my role leading communications teams to support major government transformation programmes across various departments has helped. Covid and the need to restructure and adapt with changes to ways of working and processes, resulting in difficult decisions for job roles and redundancies for those roles no longer relevant in a post covid world, has equally been hugely challenging. Like many in the charitable sector fundraising revenues have suffered and there has been a need to adapt to doing this differently in a virtual world, like the challenges faced in delivering in DWP throughout Covid too.

I’m so incredibly proud to be part of an organisation that through introducing rigorous daily testing has remained open to visitors throughout Covid so that families and friends can give the love and support needed to their loved ones in the most testing of times. Some of the stories you read and hear about for those sadly dying in hospital without their loved ones has been truly heart breaking.  It makes me cry now just thinking about it and seeing the relief when patients are referred to us from hospitals as the visiting is allowed.

It’s great to be able to put years of civil service experience and knowledge into practice in a different organisation, the charitable sector, and realise that yes, as civil servants we do have transportable and valuable skills. I don’t think as civil servants we truly value the skills that we have enough, that’s a real shame, we do have amazingly transferrable skills, we just need to find that way to use them and believe in ourselves.

Many see the hospice as a sad place, yes that is true at times, but the people there are amazing focussing on life, not death as the core mission. As a receptionist I am often the very first person patients and their families see as they enter and sadly sometimes the last for families in their grief. The impression I give is incredibly important and in Covid with screens it’s been very difficult to adapt as my instinct is to help and that’s difficult to do at a distance.

I’ve seen people come in as wives and husbands and leave as widows and widowers. I’ve seen children lose their parents at too young an age. I’ve also seen big man mountains in tears, fearful about what’s behind the doors and asking for help from me in what to expect before they see their friends in their last moments and having a big hug from them for my help as they leave. At the same time, I’ve seen little children come in dressed as superheroes with pockets full of change to donate from toys they have sold, groups of bikers delivering Easter eggs each year for the children and that’s what drives me – people are so amazingly generous and kind.

My favourite moment during Covid, and it still makes me cry, was a lady waiting for her sister to arrive as her mother lay dying last December. We have a small gift shop in reception that has remained closed in Covid and she looked at the shop wistfully and said that if only it was open she could do all her Christmas shopping and get it out of the way. I opened the shop just for her, confident that it was safe to do so. I gave her free reign behind the closed door to buy what she and her sister wanted. As they returned to her mother, I wrapped all the presents for them with little notes identifying what was in each so all they had to do was write the recipient names on them. Sadly, their mother passed away that day and whilst it was a small thing the looks on their faces and the sheer relief that it was out of the way will stay with me forever – that’s why I do it. And by the way I have just read that back and am crying now!

I absolutely love both the receptionist and Trustee roles. I’m not going to lie, at times it can be exhausting both physically and mentally in addition to the day job as nearly all activity is done outside of work, but it’s equally tremendously rewarding.  I would encourage others to do so in a heartbeat. Find your passion and go for it.

If you are in the Blackpool area and want to volunteer for an amazing cause, we need more volunteers so please do get in touch as I’m always happy to chat. Take care.