How volunteers help Sussex hospice ‘at heart of the community’
More than 600 volunteers support St Catherine’s Hospice to provide vital end of life care to terminally ill people and their families when it’s needed most. Here, a team of volunteer admin assistants, who support the hospice’s retail team at St Catherine’s furniture warehouse, share their experiences of volunteering for the local charity.
Carolyn Stokes started volunteering with St Catherine’s last September. She said: “I worked for the same company for 40 years and retired in March 2019. I had a lovely year off picking up new hobbies and projects, but I’ve always thought I’d like to volunteer.
“I wanted to volunteer for a local charity so St Catherine’s was ideal. I had a friend who very sadly needed to use St Catherine’s many years ago. He passed away at the hospice, so I knew of the good work they did.”
Babs O’Kane first got involved with St Catherine’s when she ran the London Marathon in 2008. “I experienced then how supportive St Catherine’s is,” she said,
“The team really looked after us, gave us training, took us up to London, supported us on the day, and even invited us back to the hospice a couple of weeks later for some cakes and a little tour.
“I then experienced the hospice from a different angle when a very dear friend spent her last days there.
“I was overwhelmed by the warmth, care and support that was given to her, her family, and any friends who visited.
“From that point forward, I really wanted to do my bit and volunteer.
“At the beginning of the first lockdown last year, I was made redundant. Suddenly I had no focus. A friend suggested I get in contact with St Catherine’s to see if they had voluntary positions.
“A couple of weeks later, a position came up. I had an interview and I started volunteering two mornings a week last September.”
Aliza Siddque is a recent university graduate and decided to volunteer after witnessing the suffering her grandad went through from having a terminal illness before he passed away.
She said: “I wanted to give my time to a hospice and support the work they do caring for those suffering from terminal illnesses. I also wanted to volunteer to build my confidence, work with new people and gain useful skills that I can potentially use in a future job.
“Before volunteering with St Catherine’s, I was trying to keep as busy as I could at home during lockdown by home schooling my little sister and continuing my job search.
“However, being at home all the time became very draining and repetitive. Volunteering has helped bring productivity back into my life, helped me get out of the house and given me purpose, a chance to learn new skills, and the opportunity to make a difference for others in my community.”
In their admin assistant roles the volunteers help in varied ways.
“The role seemed interesting and one where I could bring some skills that I’d gained in my career,” says Carolyn. “One of our responsibilities includes updating our Gift Aid database.
“Gift aid helps the hospice get an extra 25 per cent from taxpayers so it’s really worthwhile.”
This team of volunteers also help package up eBay orders for the hospice, and recently worked together to implement a new, hugely successful doorstep collection service.
Carolyn, Babs and Aliza arranged over 450 collections from people in the local community
Aliza said: “When we’re arranging collections, we hear a lot of different reasons as to why people want to donate to St Catherine’s. Some people have a family member who has passed away who was cared for by the hospice.
“For those people donating items is a way of giving back. Taking time to talk to each supporter and learning what donating means to them personally is lovely and knowing my time has helped raise money for the hospice is a sense of accomplishment like no other.”
Babs agrees, “People use their donations, be it furniture, clothes, books, bric-a-brac, to support the hospice. I’ve had very humbling experiences where people have phoned in, and said they’ve recently lost a loved one and now want to donate the things that their loved ones had.
“Sometimes those phone calls turn into a person wanting to chat. We’re very privileged that we have the time to do that. We’re not put under any pressure as to how long we can spend on a phone call with somebody, so we have the time to talk – that’s often important.”
Carolyn added: “Now our shops are reopen again, we’re getting more involved in day to day collections and deliveries. People are phoning in as they’d like furniture items collected, and we have to check that they’ve got all the correct safety things in place like fire labels.
“I like that we’re able to give those items a new lease of life.”
As well as supporting St Catherine’s, volunteering has provided Carolyn, Babs and Aliza with personal benefits too.
“Feeling like I’m giving something back is the best thing about volunteering. It helps give me a structure to my week now I’m retired,” said Carolyn.
“St Catherine’s shop staff are hugely appreciative of what we do, which is very rewarding, as is going home and knowing I’ve made a difference by helping to raise funds.”
Babs added: “Volunteering is flexible, and I feel I’m doing something worthwhile and valuable. It allows me to use skills I’ve developed during my career, but equally, I’ve been given opportunities to develop and grow in other directions as well.
“When I was made redundant my first reaction was one of shock and panic, but I’ve turned that negative into a positive as I’ve got all these administrative skills and the time to share them with St Catherine’s.
“Volunteering’s helped me during the pandemic because I’m somebody that needs to meet people. I love being around people, and I love to chat.
“It’s provided me with a focus, and a reason to get up and get out the door.
“People are so friendly, so supportive and appreciative of everything that we do, and that’s enabled me to cope with what’s been a difficult time for many, many people.”
Aliza said: “Since volunteering I’ve noticed a positive change in my confidence. I’ve delivered on different tasks in a busy environment, and I communicate well with others.
“Volunteering has given me the confidence boost that I needed. It’s so rewarding to support such a fantastic local charity, and work alongside such lovely people.”
Babs saaid: “Every volunteer matters at St Catherine’s. On my first day Annette, retail operations manager, said ‘if anybody asks you what you do at St Catherine’s, please never say, Oh, I’m only a volunteer.’
“She told me you’re not an ‘only’, and that’s so true. We’re made to feel part of the team.”
“I feel very happy to have helped St Catherine’s during such a tough time,” said Aliza, while Babs added: “I feel absolutely fabulous knowing I help St Catherine’s. It’s so rewarding, because I’ve experienced the warmth and kindness within the hospice myself.
“I’ve been overwhelmed at how many people we speak to during our volunteering who want to tell us how the hospice has helped them. It’s proven to me that St Catherine’s is the heart of our community.
“It’s loved by so many, and people want to help and want to support the charity.”
Aliza agreed: “It’s so important the hospice has the support and love of our community to help raise funds.”
If you would like to find out more about volunteering at St Catherine’s please visit: www.stch.org.uk/volunteer or call 01293 447351. Or to make a donation to support your local hospice please visit: www.stch.org.uk/donate or call 01293 447361.