“I joined Ashgate to give something back; now it’s become a way of life for me.”
It’s been 15 years this March since Michael Cox started volunteering at Ashgate Hospicecare – and he loves it now just as much as when he started. Michael, who has been working on reception at the hospice’s Old Brampton site during the pandemic, started volunteering to give back after Ashgate cared for his father, George.
He describes the care his father received as “nothing short of exceptional”.
Michael also enjoys the social side of volunteering and admits it’s now become “a way of life” after first joining the team in 2006.
“I’m more than happy to give up my own time to help support the hospice,” he said. “When I signed up as a volunteer, I said I’d promise to do 10 years but here I am after 15 and I have no plans to stop anytime soon!
“When the time was right, I wanted to come and give something back after my dad was cared for here in 1991.
“He had lung cancer and spent a couple of weeks at the hospice before he died aged 78. The care he received was faultless, it really was. Life is not all about taking, it’s about giving back too.
“Now I feel so proud to be representing the hospice.”
Prior to the lockdown, Michael mainly worked on the ward reception before being transferred to the main reception.
His responsibilities include welcoming patients and their families as they arrive, ensuring people are wearing masks and have sanitised their hands as well as answering the phone.
He’s also recently started putting his work experience as a carpet and upholstery cleaner into action by volunteering at Ashgate's Furniture Store.
Michael added: “I enjoy meeting different people all the time, not only the people you work with but the patients and families who come in too.
“It’s great to be part of a really tightknit team and that’s certainly the case at Ashgate. I do really enjoy the experience.”
Volunteering at Ashgate Hospicecare – whether it’s on the Inpatient Unit or in one of its shops – is a great way to help the charity so it can be there to care for the patients and families who need it most.
If you would like any more information about volunteering at Ashgate, please visit www.ashgatehospicecare.org.uk/volunteering/. Or you can get in touch with the Volunteering Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01246 568801.
“Ashgate enabled us to spend a short but wonderful time together again as a family.”
When Kevin Marshall started volunteering at Ashgate Hospicecare after struggling with his mental health, little did he know that his beloved mum Maureen would be cared for by the hospice several years later.
Kevin, from Clay Cross, admits he didn’t know a great deal about Ashgate’s services when he started volunteering with the retail and eCommerce operation more than five years ago, but he was grateful for the opportunity having been out of work for some time.
The role soon became a permanent paid position when Ashgate – impressed by the contribution he made as a volunteer – offered him a job as eCommerce Assistant two-and-a-half years ago.
But in April 2019, less than a year after Kevin joined as a member of staff, Maureen, who had incurable lung cancer, was admitted to Ashgate’s Inpatient Ward.
She received “exceptional” end-of-life care that gave Kevin and his family “space to breathe” – allowing them to create special memories as a family before she sadly died on April 11, aged 74.
“Ashgate has done so much for me,” said Kevin. “It was the perfect place to come to work and after my mum died in the hospice’s care, now it means even more to me.
“Mum being at Ashgate gave us as a family a chance to breathe. They do all the heavy lifting: the medication, the water, the change of the bedding – that stuff we were doing at home which meant that we didn’t have time to sit and relax together.
“Ashgate allowed us to do normal things as a family again, even just sitting and watching EastEnders. We were able to create memories with her in the time we had left.
“It’s such a warm place to be and is full of friendly places. A hospice isn’t all doom and gloom like people may think, it’s a positive place to celebrate life.”
Kevin and his family had been caring for Maureen themselves at home when her condition deteriorated, and they were left with no choice but to call 999.
Doctors referred her to Ashgate hospice, which seemed scary for Maureen and her family at first, but it didn’t take long before they all knew she was in the right place.
She went into Ashgate incredibly unwell and unaware of her own surroundings, but after a couple of days, with the correct medication, hydration and sustenance, her health improved and she was able to sit up in her chair and feed herself.
Kevin, 47, added: “We feel so lucky that she was able to get a bed. The nurses and doctors at Ashgate helped perk mum up.
“My sister, brother and I were all sinking but Ashgate helped us float again. At first mum didn’t want to be there but soon she realised it was the right place for her.
“My mum grew up on a farm and was always an outdoor person, so just being able to go out in the beautiful gardens and be in a lovely environment was special.
“What Ashgate did for us as a family was enable us to spend a short but wonderful time together.”
Kevin now goes into work with his mum as his driving force; determined to raise vital funds so Ashgate can be there for future families who need its care and support.
As part of his job, Kevin identifies high value items that have been donated to Ashgate Hospicecare and list them for auction on eBay – recently he spotted a luxury Jaeger-LeCoultre watch and a box of Halo gaming figures, which both fetched £1,000.
Since Kevin started his eCommerce position, retail income has increased, which is what pleases Kevin most because it “helps to put nurses at the side of beds”.
“I came to Ashgate when I was on the road to recovery and needed some help to get me back into work,” he added.
“I’d been suffering from anxiety and depression and needed something that would get me back into the workplace. I was struggling so much that at the volunteering interview my wife had to come with me – Ashgate gave me the confidence to go back into the workplace.
“Since then, it’s been great, I’ve really enjoyed it. For me personally, I just love helping an organisation that does so much good for the community.
“I feel like I’m making a contribution each day which is the most important thing for me.”
“It’s important that people realise that the hospice is a place of comfort; it can support families through a difficult time and help people, both here and at home, to die with dignity.”
“I started volunteering for Ashgate Hospicecare 30 years ago because my youngest son, who was 18 at the time, had just gone away to a university in America and so I found myself with some free time. I wanted to give something back and, at that time, the hospice was in its infancy, so I decided I’d like to volunteer. I’d never had any experience in a hospice before, but I knew I wanted a role that would allow me to connect with the patients."
"I used to come in at seven o’clock in the morning and serve breakfast and then I’d stay for a bit longer and serve lunch. In those days, we were allowed to help bath the patients – it was very hands on! I would even sit with patients who were nearing the end of their life before their family came in.
Despite what many people think, the hospice is a very happy place. Often, when I told people I volunteered there, they’d say to me, ‘Oh, I don't know how you can volunteer there. It must be very hard to be around people who are dying.’ And it can be very tough sometimes, but there are also a lot of good times. The hardest thing for me was seeing patients who had young children. But there were always people around who I could talk to and I just did my best for each patient.
It was quite a small team of staff and volunteers back in 1988. I remember all the original members of staff. They always made me feel appreciated, saying, ‘I don’t know what we’d do without you!’ So that was really nice.
A lot of people knew I was a volunteer on the ward and so, if they knew someone who was on the ward, they’d ask me if I could sit with them whenever they couldn’t be there. I knew a lady who became ill and came onto the ward. She was really worried about coming to the hospice as she’d never been before and so she asked me if I could meet her at the door when she arrived. I did, and you could see the relief she felt when she saw a friendly face. Unfortunately, a few years later, her daughter also came into the hospice and she too asked me if I could wait by the door for her, which I did. It’s nice that I was able to help people feel better about coming here and gradually you can see their fears and anxieties disappear as they are greeted by the nurses and are made to feel comfortable here.
Around ten years ago I needed something a bit more flexible and so I decided to take up a volunteering role in the Fundraising Team doing bucket collections in shops and I often rope my husband into doing some collections with me! It’s great because we travel to America fairly often to see my son and his family, and this role is very flexible so it works.
I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to volunteer for Ashgate Hospicecare for so long. It’s a place that’s become very close to my heart. Even now occasionally I get a lump in my throat when doing the bucket collections. Quite often, I will get people coming up to me who’ve had relatives cared for by the hospice and they’ll tell me how wonderful the care is and they’ll put some money into the bucket. It’s very hard not to well up in situations like that.
Even though I’m not volunteering on the ward anymore, I still have lots of conversations with people about the work of the hospice and I think it’s important to have those conversations with people in the community. Lots of people still don’t like to think about hospices, but if you have a chat with them you can often help to dispel some of their misconceptions about the place. It’s important that people realise that Ashgate Hospicecare is a place of comfort; it can support families through a difficult time and help people both here and at home to die with dignity.
I’ve got nothing but praise for the hospice. I've been fortunate that I’ve had the time to give something back and to help patients and families. It’s so rewarding to volunteer and to know that you’re helping to raise money and awareness for such a good cause.”
"Seeing the difference this place makes to peoples’ lives is phenomenal. We must never lose it.”
I was involved in Ashgate Hospicecare before it was born, when it was just an embryonic aspiration in 1985! I was working at Chesterfield Royal Hospital in the anaesthetic department as a secretary. Dick Atkinson, who led the appeal to get the Hospice started, was there as a consultant and anaesthetist. As well as that, my dad, who was the mayor of Chesterfield at the time, knew Dick because he was also very keen to have a hospice here and wanted to adopt it as the mayor’s charity.
When we started fundraising to turn the old hospital here into a functioning hospice, we aimed to reach £375,000. We were an enthusiastic group of volunteers so we got that amount fairly quickly. I was involved in auctioning off all the old furniture, meeting the planners and so on. We were very fortunate because we had 75% of our funding guaranteed from the District Health Authority, which no longer exists, meaning that we were in a unique situation in the country.
When the Hospice appeal officially became a charity I became the secretary on a voluntary basis. I also helped out with patients and had a hand in all departments. My proudest moment was when we moved the first patient in. Her name was Maureen and I had known her and her husband as she was a patient at the Royal. They did quite a lot of fundraising to get the Hospice going and Maureen had always said that she wanted to be the first patient in here. It was wonderful to make her wish come true, however, sadly, she was also the first patient who died here.
I think Ashgate is a fantastic place to volunteer and I would encourage everybody to give it a go. There are lots of roles in and outside the Hospice and for those people who want to volunteer but might find it too difficult emotionally to be around patients. They could start by working in our shops, collecting donations or getting involved in our events. You meet lots of wonderful people no matter which role you’re in and it is all very rewarding.
It makes me feel exceedingly proud that we have been here for 30 years. If we look back to when we first started, we offer a much greater range of services and we now help many people in their own homes which is brilliant. I feel proud to have helped Dick Atkinson, who needs to be acknowledged for the vision he had for the Hospice and for his determination to get it open. If it hadn’t been for him, we would not have had a Hospice when we did. I’m proud that even though my dad is not here anymore, the things he envisaged for the Hospice have happened. I think it’s so important to remember all the people who worked hard and continue to work hard for Ashgate Hospicecare, and there couldn’t be a better time to do that than the 30th anniversary!
I know the Hospice will only continue to expand and I think it’s a great comfort to a lot of people that it’s here. I think the old idea that you come to a hospice to die is gradually fading because people are realising that we are just trying to give people the best possible quality of life. Ashgate Hospicecare should feel immensely proud of the work they do, and that they have contributed to making people feel less afraid of hospice care. I’ve met many people who have passed through the Hospice as patients and carers, and seeing the strength that they take from this place and the difference it makes to peoples’ lives is phenomenal. We must never ever lose it.
"It’s like a five star hotel. It’s all about making patients feel special so that they look forward to coming here each week."
"I’ve been a volunteer in the Day Hospice since April 2009, over nine years now! I had a little break after I retired from teaching, and then I decided to come and volunteer here. I used to live really close to the Hospice on Storrs Road, so, even though I didn’t know anybody at that time who had needed the Hospice, it was always a feature of the area. Everybody always talks about the Hospice and everybody knows someone who’s been here, so I was aware of the great work the Hospice do and that was the reason I wanted to volunteer here."
"The Hospice plays such an important part in our community, but when you talk about it, most people know about the ward but they don’t often know that we have a Day Hospice.
People are genuinely surprised about the service that Day Hospice provides. Many of the patients who come here might be living on their own and so, particularly if they’re home bound, they wouldn’t usually get to see many people. When they come here they can see their consultant and nurse and talk about the problems they’ve been experiencing over the week so that they can get those sorted and face the next week. But they also get pampered by the complementary therapists and can have massages and so on, they also have their pre-lunch drinks and then a nice meal. Today we had two dogs in from Pets as Therapy, which the patients just love, and the dogs love all the attention from patients too.
I used to get the bus out of the village quite a lot and people knew that I came here and so they’d ask me how things are at the Hospice and what’s happening up there. Being able to get the word out about what the Hospice does is very important. The Hospice provides such a vital service for those who need it.
We have about 15 patients per day and if you think about it that’s 50-60 people a week who are being regularly looked after for a whole day. They initially come for a period of six weeks and this can be extended. I know a few patients who have been coming for longer and I’ve really got to know them well. I still phone one lady regularly who has stopped coming to the Day Hospice, just to see how she’s doing. I’m also doing her family tree for her. You bond with the patients and they form friendships with each other too. You can see how appreciative everybody is of the service offered here.
It’s all about making patients feel special so that they look forward to coming here each week. I think positivity just envelops the place. The patients will sometimes come in in the morning and not be feeling very well but when they’ve settled in, been looked after and had a chat with someone, you can see in their faces that they feel much better. I know that for a lot of people, this is the highlight of their week. It’s amazing to see patients with a huge smile on their faces. It’s an absolutely invaluable service in my opinion.
It’s like a five star hotel. We remember what the patients like to drink and so we can fetch them their G&T, or whatever it might be. As volunteers, we play a really important role in delivering that personal service. We do loads of different activities and games with the patients, and there are lots of special events that happen here. Christmas is a particularly special time when even more groups want to come and perform for the Day Hospice patients. People come in and sing carols and school kids come in and sing too and the patients often sing along too, which is lovely to see. Some of the things the Day Hospice patients make, the Hospice can sell, so they feel like they're doing their bit and contributing to fundraising for the Hospice.
Many people don’t realise that as a Hospice we look after patients with all sorts of conditions, not just cancer. Many of our patients do have some sort of cancer, but we also look after patients with motor neurone disease and other neurological diseases such as progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). Quite a few of our patients have some form of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), so they often have trouble breathing and need to use oxygen. Those who come into the Day Hospice can be at all different stages of their illness. Some people might come in for only six weeks and then they feel more confident to get on with their lives by themselves after that, and others want to keep coming for longer. Of course we do get some very sad cases where somebody will be here one week and not the next.
A lot people say, I don’t know how you can work there. I always say, it’s not like you think it is. It’s the most positive place that I’ve ever been to. Sometimes it is very sad and I have cried about patients who have died before. But you come back in because you know there are more patients who need looking after and it helps you to feel better by helping those patients.
As well as patients being able to make friends here, the Day Hospice often provides a comfortable place for people to discuss their illness with other patients who might be going through similar things. I’ve seen patients come in and after a while, come to terms with their disease and with what’s happening because they have chatted to other patients about it. As a volunteer, we don’t talk to them about their illness unless they talk to us first.
One of our patients who has been coming to the Day Hospice for a while told me that the public don't want to talk about being ill, especially not about being terminally ill, but she can come in here and have a really frank conversation with somebody about it and it makes her feel better. Coming here, they know that everybody's in the same boat. When they speak about their illness, it's very likely that the person they're talking to will know where they're coming from. I think it's often easier to talk to people here than it is to talk to family and relatives, as they don’t want to upset them.
The staff here are just incredible, you can see why they won the Compassion Award at Hospice Heroes. That's exactly what they are; compassionate. Nothing is too much trouble for them and I can see that nursing some of the patients is not always an easy job. It's very demanding work, but the staff here are always upbeat. That goes for the whole Hospice; everybody is upbeat and I think you have to be because of what happens here.
The Day Hospice is an amazing place to volunteer. I've always felt an integral part of the team, right from the word go. The staff and volunteers have all got their roles to play and we just come in and get on with it. If there's something the nurses want us to do, they'll just ask and vice versa. If a patient has some concerns and they need to speak to a nurse, we'll go and get a nurse for them, so you feel as though you really are part of a team. There are more eyes on the patients with volunteers around and they feel like they're being listened to if we go and tell the nurses what they need.
The Day Hospice couldn’t run without volunteers because the nurses would have to do what we do; simple things like making drinks. The patients have got to have drinks, they've got to have their teas, coffees, water and the other things they want and, because many of them can't move unaided, they can’t just get up and make drinks themselves. Plus we want to spoil them!
Volunteering here has changed how I feel every day. Every volunteer you talk to will say that being here really helps to keep you grounded. When you come in each week and see what other people are having to go through, it stops you complaining about small things. Most of the patients need to make sure that their pain relief is just right, otherwise, within a couple of minutes, they'll be in excruciating pain again. It really helps to put life into perspective, so for me that's one of the personal benefits. I love coming here and I would recommend it to anyone, it’s such an important place to give your time to and you’ll get so much out of it."
“I’ve realised how much the patients appreciate coming to the Day Hospice every week and it’s nice to be a small part of that.”
Chloe Pheasey, 17, from Marsh Lane in Derbyshire speaks with Amy Buxton from the Marketing and Communications Team at Ashgate Hospicecare about what it’s like to be a Day Hospice volunteer.
A: When did you start volunteering here?
C: At the beginning of 2018.
A: What first made you decide to start volunteering here?
C: My sixth form encourages every student to volunteer once a week. I wanted to come here because somebody from my school spoke about it in assembly and it inspired me to have a look at the work that the Hospice does.
A: Did you know you wanted to volunteer in the Day Hospice?
C: Yes, that’s what I applied for. I was really keen to volunteer with patients.
A: What have you enjoyed about volunteering with patients?
C: I really like just talking to patients and making teas for them. Whoever you talk to, they really enjoy it. I’ve realised how much the patients appreciate coming to the Day Hospice every week and it’s nice to be even a small part of that. You realise how much they enjoy coming here.
A: What do you do when you come in on a weekly basis?
C: As well as bringing the hot drinks around and chatting, I also sometimes play bingo with the patients. It’s nice to have these kinds of responsibilities – I never feel like a spare part!
A: Is it nice to speak with the same patients when you come in every week?
C: Yes, you get to know the patients quite well here and a lot of them are really chatty and funny.
A: How many hours do you do?
C: I come in for around 2 hours, one day a week.
A: What were you expecting before you started working here?
C: I was expecting everyone to be kind, but everyone’s a lot nicer than I imagined – staff, volunteers and patients. I didn’t realise that Ashgate wasn’t just about end of life care and that the Hospice offers so much more than just beds on the Inpatient Unit. The patients here have somewhere to go once a week that they can look forward to. They enjoy coming together and talking to people in a similar situation to them, they can play games and have a bit of fun. Even though patients only come here once a week, you can see how much they appreciate being able to come here.
A: Have you done anything like this before?
C: No, this is totally new for me. Whenever I’ve helped out with things it’s always been sport related.
A: Is this something you’d like to do in the future?
C: Yes, I have thought a lot about working in health care in the future and so it’s really good for me to get this kind of experience.
A: How long do you think you’ll keep volunteering here?
C: I’m only half way through my first year of sixth form and so I’d like to keep volunteering for the whole time I’m in sixth form, which is 2 years.
A: Do you get along well with the other volunteers?
C: Yes, we get along really well. The other volunteers are all lovely and very easy to talk to. Even though we’re all very different ages, it doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t put anybody off from applying to be a volunteer. There are people who volunteer at Ashgate from the age of 16 to their 80s! It’s just so nice to come here and talk to other volunteers and the patients.
A: What do you think your peers could get from volunteering here?
C: They would get an awareness of what goes on at the Hospice. There’s also a sense of achievement and accomplishment when you volunteer here. You’re involved in something that really matters to somebody’s life.
A: What kind of skills can you gain from working volunteer in the Day Hospice?
C: Somebody who wants to volunteer in the Day Hospice needs to have some social skills to be able to communicate with patients and volunteers, but you can also build on these skills if you’re not that confident. The first time I volunteered here, I was really nervous and didn’t talk as much as I do now.
A: Thank you, Chloe! I hope you enjoy the rest of your time volunteering at Ashgate!
"When I came in for my first shift I was really nervous. But by the end, I loved talking to patients and helping them!"
"I’m a volunteer at the Hospice on the ward. I come in for an hour and a half once a week and serve dinners to the patients. I ask them what they would like to eat, take down their menu choices and serve their evening meals and drinks. There are three other volunteers who do that shift with me and they are absolutely lovely!"
"I get so much out of it. I’m in my final year of sixth form now and have always had an interest in healthcare and medicine. I was thinking about becoming a doctor but I’m not sure, so I’m going to take a gap year to give me time to think about it. It’s coming up to a year that I’ve been volunteering here. I plan to carry on through my gap year and take on more shifts – I love it! It’s also great to have voluntary experience on your personal statement when applying for universities.
When I came in for my first shift I was really nervous about doing something wrong and upsetting someone, but you quickly learn that patients are just people like you and me! Before I started, I had no idea that a hospice is totally different to any other healthcare environment. I was expecting it to be very busy like a hospital and with lots of machines, but it’s not like that at all. It’s a very calm and friendly place to be. Plus, I’ve always felt like I can talk to the Volunteering Team at the Hospice if I ever need support with anything. It’s a lovely environment to be in.
Another thing I’ve learned is that many of the patients get sent home after coming in here. The doctors and nurses help to get their pain under control so they can go back home. I also thought that patients would be much more ill and not able to have a conversation with you, but, a lot of the time, patients really like it when you come to see them and they like to have a laugh and a chat with you.
I remember one really nice lady in particular who had some form of cancer. One evening she had five desserts – one after another! I kept having to go back to the kitchen to ask for more. We like it when people eat a lot but we all found it quite funny!
I’ve learned so many skills here and met lots of different people. I’ve learned how to interact with patients, how to work as a part of a team, how to fill in food charts correctly so that the nurses and healthcare assistants know what food and how much the patient has eaten. You have to be on your feet a lot and be responsive to peoples’ needs. This kind of experience is really going to help me in the future, but it’s also just really enjoyable; I’d recommend it to anyone!"
“Coming back to the Hospice for the first time as a volunteer counsellor was the hardest thing for me. But once I took that step, it was amazing.”
Louise, from Buxton, is a counselling student and has been a volunteer counsellor at Ashgate Hospicecare since November 2017. Louise shares what being a volunteer at the Hospice means to her.
“My husband, David, had a brain tumour for a long time. We started having visits at home from a specialist nurse from the Hospice when he started to get much worse. Eventually, David needed to be admitted to the Inpatient Unit.
The Hospice became our home for seven weeks and the staff were absolutely fantastic. Being able to stay with David for the whole time was just amazing. We were lucky enough to have our own private room so we were still able to be a couple. We still had our space and our time. We got takeaways on a Saturday night and we always had a laugh with the nurses and healthcare assistants on the ward. It was a little bit of normality for us at a difficult time.
The Hospice made a really bad situation the best it could possibly be. I couldn’t praise it enough. Not just for David, but for me as well. The staff were all fantastic. David was very young - he was only 42 when he died - and every member of staff was very supportive and respectful towards both of us. David had a wicked sense of humour and the staff really got that and played along with it.
I was a hairdresser before David died and I love to be around people, especially one on one. However, after David died I had no desire to go back to that. I had had some counselling myself and knew I wanted to come back to the Hospice and give something back for the excellent care we both received. So I decided to start a counselling course in the hope that I would be able to help other people who had been through a similar thing. I know every situation is very different, but I felt like I could help somebody else get through a tough time.
I’m in my final year of a counselling course now and I’m doing my placement here at the Hospice. I saw my first client four years to the day that David died here. That day was very special to me. I was driving over here thinking, come on David, you’ve got to help me through this!
Going through the course has been emotional for me, but I’ve been very well supported throughout. It’s demanding but I’ve enjoyed it and it has actually helped me with my grief. I feel motivated now to help and support others as much as I’ve been helped. I see two clients at the moment at the Hospice but I’m already keen to see more! I absolutely love it.
I’d say to anybody thinking about volunteering, just try it. Try whatever you think will suit you and don’t be afraid. You’ll be welcomed with open arms. Everybody at the Hospice is kind and warm. The whole of the Supportive Care Team are fantastic. Coming back to the Hospice for the first time as a volunteer counsellor was the hardest thing for me. I was so nervous and I felt my heart beating out of my chest. But once I took that step, it was amazing. Coming back to the Hospice is not right for everybody who has lost a loved one here. But I know that I’m here because of David and I think he would be really proud of me."
“Volunteering my time at Ashgate Hospicecare is a privilege. It’s a privilege to listen to people because somebody gave up their time for me when I needed it, when my world fell in.”
“I’m on a course studying to be a counsellor and I’ve also got my own window cleaning business. A few years ago I had one of those years that I think most people can relate to, when everything seems to go wrong at once. My marriage ended and I also lost a friend around the same time. I really needed to talk about things, so I went to counselling and found it helped me a lot."
"Once I was in a better place myself, I found a study group for counselling level one, which gave me a taste of what a counselling course is like. I enjoyed it a lot, so decided to progress and I’ve now passed level three. We had to do a presentation so I decided to visit Ashgate Hospicecare and do my presentation about the Hospice. The Supportive Care brought me into the office and gave me loads of great information about being a volunteer counsellor here.
When it came to choosing my placement, I knew I wanted to come here because the Hospice had cared for my uncle in the last days of his life ten years ago and I’ll never forget how fantastic the staff were. I’ve always donated to the Hospice and I live in Chesterfield, so I know how important it is for the local community and for the rest of North Derbyshire. I’m so pleased that my journey has brought me back here. Now I’m here I don’t want to leave and I will certainly be coming back as a volunteer counsellor after my placement has ended.
Even though I’ve only been here a few months, I feel like I’ve settled in well. The Hospice is a warm and welcoming place and everybody I’ve met has been friendly and keen to help. There are also many levels of professional support and development in this role. Some placements throw clients at you - it’s endemic throughout the industry – however, here at the Hospice, all the counsellors will begin with one client after which we have a review to see if we are ready to take on more. They also provide confidential support for counsellors if we need to talk about things we find difficult.
Volunteering my time at Ashgate Hospicecare is a privilege. It’s a privilege to listen to people because somebody gave up their time for me when I needed it, when my world fell in. It’s a comfort for many people to know there’s a place that they can come in confidence to work through things during a difficult time in their lives.
All the staff and volunteers are very committed; everybody wants to ensure that we are giving the best care we can give. To anybody who is considering volunteering I would say, do it, without hesitation, if you know you have the time to give. You won’t regret it. Best of luck to you!”
Sophie and Valerie’s Story
“If we can make one person smile, then it’s worth it.”
Sophie Dolling is 37 and Valerie Francis is 72, however the 35 years between them is no matter when it comes to forming a strong friendship and becoming, what they call, the Volunteering A Team! They spoke about their experience of volunteering on the Inpatient Unit.
Sophie: I’ve been volunteering here for about two years now. My children had just started going to school, so I had the daytime free. I wanted to do something good with my time and I knew about Ashgate Hospicecare so I thought I would apply to volunteer here. Valerie and I chat to patients on the ward, ask them what they’d like for lunch and serve teas and coffees.
Valerie: I retired about 12 years ago and started volunteering here about a year and a half ago. My family is all grown up, so I’m not relied on to look after my family anymore. I wanted to give something back to the community and I enjoy it very much. Sophie and I do the same hours. We’re supposed to do about 3 hours a week, but we always do a bit more. We never get paid overtime though!
We try to make people laugh. My own motto is ‘Keep smiling and make other people smile’. That’s what keeps you going and it’s what keeps patients going as well.
Sophie: When we tell people that we volunteer in a hospice, some people can’t understand why we enjoy it, but it’s because we get to spend time talking to patients. We think that if we can make one person smile, then it’s worth it. It can be hard when you get to know patients and their families if the patient dies, but it’s also really nice to get to know people.
You get attached to some people and you can see that they can’t wait to chat to you. It’s so lovely when you walk in and their face lights up because they’ve been waiting to talk to you. We could be there for half an hour or so having a chat and it doesn’t matter. There are enough volunteers so you don’t have to rush or worry about getting on with things quickly. We’ll always cover each other if the other is chatting to a patient.
Valerie: It’s sometimes difficult to remember every patient’s name, they don’t have name tags you know! I once saw a patient I recognised whose name I’d forgotten and when I went into her room I just said, “You’re the jam lady!” It made her smile because she had told us before that she made jam and we’d remembered. When you leave to go home, you feel good in yourself.
Sophie: You almost feel selfish because you feel so good. It’s because you’re doing something positive for someone.
Valerie: Exactly. To volunteer here you’ve always got to think about other people. You’ve got to be sociable and make people laugh if you can. I enjoy it so much that I’ve now got two more people to apply to volunteer!
Sophie: Valerie’s on commission you know!
I agree, a good volunteer should be caring but you’ve also got to be tactful and be able to judge the situation. If a patient is giving you one word answers, you need to let them sleep.
It’s a great environment to volunteer in. We didn’t know each other before we started and now the four of us who do this shift together are best buddies! We chat on a group message and meet up outside of here socially. The staff do anything for you too – it’s like a big family here.
Valerie: We get along with other volunteers across the Hospice too. We all feel that we’re all just trying our best.
Sophie: If anybody is considering volunteering, I’d say just do it! It’s a little bit of time out of your week. You can still fit it in doing other things if you help at breakfast like us or come for a few hours at the weekend. It’s what’s needed in the community; volunteers are needed to keep the Hospice going.
“Volunteering at Ashgate Hospicecare keeps you in touch with reality.”
“I’ve been a volunteer at Ashgate Hospicecare serving the Thursday evening suppers for 30 years! There was lots of publicity when the Hospice first opened and I saw that they needed volunteers. At that time I had two friends who were terminally ill, one of them had cancer and one had diabetes. Both mothers had young children and were in Sheffield hospitals. It was very difficult for the fathers to ensure the children were looked after and take them to visit their mothers. I saw that a Hospice was necessary and that we could offer something better for people in this area."
In those days, the volunteers would not only serve the suppers but we also cooked for the patients. The kitchen staff would go home at the end of the day leaving the volunteers to run the kitchen. They would leave sandwiches and desserts made up and labeled but if patients wanted an omelette, poached eggs, boiled eggs, beans on toast, or whatever we would make it and take it out to them. Each patient would have their own tray with their own cup and saucer, teapot, milk and sugar. It was like a hotel or somebody spoiling you with a meal in bed. We only went home once all dishes were collected and washed. If we were particularly busy, the housekeepers would help us to serve. Now that the Hospice has grown this does not happen.
Volunteering at Ashgate Hospicecare keeps one in touch with reality. There are always people who make a strong impression on you. I will always remember one lovely old lady who was in the Hospice for about 3 months. I got to know her well and she reminded me of my grandmother. Most patients don’t stay in very long now because many of their conditions can be stabilised and they go home. In order not to get too upset, I like to think that every patient who moves out of the Inpatient Unit has gone home. Of course many of them do go home, which is something most people don’t realise. A lot of people think that you come into a hospice to die, but that’s not the case at all.
Lots of people think the Hospice is a sad place to be but it’s not. It has its sad moments of course, but quite often we have a good laugh. I remember once I was picking up a trifle and managed to take the whole layer of cream off the trifle in one fell swoop and it landed with a splat on the floor. It was in one of the patient bays and we all howled with laughter! It’s nice to be able to laugh with the patients and hopefully brighten their day.
Without volunteers, the Hospice would simply not be able to run. We are an extra pair of hands that free up the staff so that they can do what they need to do. As a volunteer, you need to be happy doing whatever job needs doing at the time and get on with it willingly. It is also important that we stay and finish the job we’re doing, otherwise it will get left for somebody else. It is also important to establish a connection with patients and their family members. A popular topic of conversation is often my accent. We will talk about whether the patient has been to Scotland, what they think of Scotland, what they think of the Scots, and so on! It can be difficult sometimes if a patient doesn’t want to talk, but I can understand it. Whether they’re young, middle aged or old, most seem to come to terms with their illness. It never ceases to amaze me that so few show anger or bitterness.
If anybody is considering volunteering at Ashgate Hospicecare, I would tell them to do it. I’ve made many friends over the years and feel that I have benefited greatly. I’ve also recommended it to a number of people I know. Quite a few young people have shadowed me over the years, including people who wish to become doctors, nurses or dentists and others who would like to gain experience in a healthcare setting. I have thoroughly enjoyed this as they have so much enthusiasm and lots of care to give; it’s wonderful to see! Like I said, volunteering gives you so much and is a much-needed leveler in life. That is why I do it and it’s why you will still find a number of volunteers and staff who have been here for as long as I have.
“The Hospice has done a great deal more for me than I have done for it.”
"In 2007, I gave up my job and here I am, still on a gap year 11 years later! I was looking to giving something back after a very hectic career, and it was actually my partner who suggested volunteering at the Hospice. I’m based in the Inpatient Unit, which is a great place to volunteer. We ask the patients what they would like to eat and they can choose from a menu. We bring them food and cups of tea and we always like to have a chat and a laugh with the patients; they have so much to give."
"One of the most humbling things about being here is witnessing the bravery of people when faced with horrible situations, like when children have to suffer losing their mum or dad. It’s also heartbreaking when a parent must watch their child die, no matter how old they are. It’s also incredibly humbling to meet the partners of patients who care for their loved ones in the most intimate of ways. It’s amazing to see the kindness, love and care that people have for each other. That’s why I always say that the Hospice has done a great deal more for me than I have done for it.
Something that many people don’t realise about the Hospice is that many of our patients come into the Inpatient Unit to have their symptoms controlled and then they are able to go home. To see somebody come in who’s really unwell and then get to go home a week or two later is a wonderful thing. The Hospice staff are fantastic and they have such a huge impact on each one of our patients lives.
We’ve been here for 30 years and we’ll certainly be here for many more. The need for hospice care will never, ever diminish. In fact, with the current challenges in health care and with people living longer and having more complex illnesses, it’s completely unthinkable that we could do without hospices all across the country. Ashgate Hospicecare has adapted well to the higher demand for the services by attracting more sponsors and partnership donations which have made a significant impact to patient care. We now have much more support to offer the patients and their families. Raising the amount of money we need to run the Hospice is no easy task, but I truly believe that the amount will increase. Everybody in the community seems to recognise the Hospice as a really special place. It’s nice to look back and see how much we’ve done for the local people too.
If you’re unsure about volunteering at the Hospice, my advice is, just go for it! It’s so easy to pick up the phone or pop in for a chat to find out where you’d fit in. Everybody is very friendly and you only have to donate the time you can spare. There are so many things you can do as a volunteer – you can take part in the Markovitz Sparkle Night Walk, come along to the summer fair and our other events or collect donations. We really need your time and you will get a huge amount out of it."
“You gain such a lot from volunteering and meet lots of great people who are all working passionately towards the same cause.”
“Before Ashgate Hospicecare opened, we desperately needed a hospice in this area. The closest one we had was in Sheffield and when somebody is ill, Sheffield is a very long way to go. It’s important that the Hospice is in a place where patients’ friends and family can get to easily and is always there for us."
"I’ve always felt very strongly about the cause and started volunteering at Ashgate Hospicecare about 4 years ago as I was fortunate to retire early. I absolutely love it. I was originally based at Clay Cross but then we moved to the Donation Centre at Hasland where new opportunities arose. I had wanted to do more volunteering and saw that there was a vacancy helping out with eBay and Amazon goods. I still look out for items to put on eBay and Amazon, but now I also sort donations received for the Hospice and help out with the new goods for the shops. This includes sorting the clothing, bric-a-brac, books and media and cleaning where required. Like many people, I didn’t realise that the Hospice had eBay and Amazon sites and that there were such a wide range of volunteering roles available here. There are so many volunteering opportunities here and any help is always gratefully received.
Volunteering has also given me the chance to do a basic counselling skills course, something I would never have thought of doing or have had the chance to do. That course has been really useful for the role I am doing and in everyday life. It’s also something that I may be able to use in the future. The work at the donation centre can be quite physical at times but there are plenty of jobs that are not, so if I can’t continue doing it later in life, I could move into a role where I could use my counselling skills at the Hospice, now that the choice is there.
It’s so important for everybody in this area and for future generations that the Hospice continues. It’s such a lovely place for people to be able to go to and it’s not just for the person who is ill, it’s for their families and friends too. We didn’t think we were going to need it, but we’ve actually had family and friends here. It’s important that everybody realises that the Hospice cares for people of all ages with all different kinds of illnesses. To keep it going we need to keep getting more volunteers and raising funds.
People like Harry Fisher, for example, are very important to the Hospice. Harry lost his wife and his daughter to cancer and both of them were cared for by Ashgate Hospicecare. His connection came full circle when he left a legacy to have what is now the ‘Harry Fisher building ’renovated. It’s a beautifully decorated part of the Hospice that now has fundraising offices and counselling rooms in. I had met Harry years ago but it wasn’t until I walked in and saw his picture hanging up in the building that I realised that the renovation was thanks to his legacy. I thought it was simply amazing that he’s made such a difference; he’s helped the Hospice to expand and he’s now at the heart of it.
If you’re thinking about volunteering, I’d say, give it a go! In my opinion, the benefits you get from volunteering far outweigh anything you get from doing a paid job. You gain such a lot from volunteering and meet lots of great people who are all working passionately towards the same cause.”
“I have met a lot of people who have come here to volunteer and found that they belong here.”
"I’ve been a volunteer at Ashgate Hospicecare for over 30 years! I used to be a part-time teacher and during that time I went to the Chesterfield Royal Hospital to have a minor operation.The nurses in my ward were selling raffle tickets for Dr Atkinson's pain relief clinic and I helped to sell them to the visitors too. They said that Dr Atkinson was looking at the possibility of opening a hospice for Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire."
"After attending the inaugural meeting to discuss this, I decided to fundraise for it. I knew several cancer patients, some who had no support and felt that a hospice was really needed. When the Hospice was built in 1988, I joined some of the nurses that I had met in the Royal Hospital and became a volunteer.
Many things have changed since then, but it’s still as wonderful as when it started. I’ve been in all areas of the Hospice during my time as a volunteer. When I first came I used to do personal care, acting as an extra pair of hands for the nurses by feeding and bathing the patients. I also used to cook the evening meal. Now, everybody has to have the right qualifications to do these jobs.
All my memories of Ashgate Hospicecare are special; down to every little chat with a patient, a visitor, or a nurse. I think the nurses and healthcare assistants deserve a lot of praise. We lucky to also have people like Dr Sarah Parnacott who is devoted to the Hospice and very supportive to everyone. When I’m collecting donations and people talk to me about their experiences and connections with the Hospice they always say that our healthcare professionals are tremendous. It’s so important to keep the Hospice going and volunteers play a key part in this, which is why I still fundraise and volunteer. We are very lucky to have such a wonderful hospice and we absolutely must help it to continue.
Anybody considering volunteering here should definitely come and give it a try. There are lots of different roles and the volunteer coordinators will help you to find the one that suits you. I have met a lot of people who have come here to volunteer and found that they belong here and, like me, have made many friends and become part of the Hospice."
Here’s Dorothy receiving the Outstanding Contribution to the Volunteer Sector Award in 2017, awarded by the Volunteer Centre.
“You’ll fall in love with the place and then you won’t be able to stop volunteering!”
Amy, aged 17, from New Whittington first came into contact with the Hospice 5 years ago when her uncle was admitted, and then again in 2013 when her grandad, who has now sadly passed away, was staying in the Inpatient Unit.
“I volunteer here because it means a lot to me, but it’s also wonderful to know that when I give my time here I’m helping people and it has the added bonus that others know I’m helping people too.
As a volunteer, you are made to feel like part of the team. You’re not separate to the staff – everybody is as important as each other. Last year, staff and volunteers from all different departments did a Christmas video and they insisted we film it on the day that my friend and I were here volunteering. When they said that, it really made us feel like an integral part of the team. It was hilarious too!
I’m currently doing my A-levels as well as applying for university, so coming here gives me a well-needed break from the pressures at school. I come to the fundraising office for a couple of hours each week. We do lots of different things from sorting through old photographs of the Hospice in preparation for the 30th anniversary, to helping to create boards for events, to preparing Santa’s grotto for the Christmas market! We are trusted to get along with most things by ourselves, but if we are ever unsure about anything, we can just ask someone in the team and they help will always help us. There's no pressure here like there is at school.
When I come into the Hospice every week, it fills me with a feeling of calm. I’ve got to know lots of different people over the years and everybody always ask how I am and how my family are doing. I feel very well supported by the extra community I've found here. Plus, my uncle’s wife and my grandma always tell me that they love the fact that I’m here maintaining that special connection to the Hospice. I know that my grandad would beproud of me too. Moving on next year will be hard, but I know I will keep popping back in to say hello!
I've learnt many things through volunteering and developed a lot of the skills I will need in the future, even down to simple things like having the confidence to say hello to somebody I don’t know. I've also done presentations about the Hospice at my school to large groups of people. As well as gaining confidence, being here has raised my awareness of the sheer amount of work that goes into running the Hospice and how many people are involved. It amazes me!
To any young person considering volunteering here, I would say, Do it! You’ve got nothing to lose! If you’ve never been to Ashgate Hospicecare before and you’re scared, the moment you walk in, you will realise there’s nothing to fear. You’ll fall in love with the place and then you won’t be able to stop volunteering!”