I am a Volunteer

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Thu 7 Jun 2018 - posted by Willen Hospice

As part of the national #VolunteersWeek, in which we celebrate and honour our often unsung heroes, our volunteers, we have been privileged to meet up with Nicole. We asked her how it came about that she freely gives up her own time as an unpaid helper at our Wellbeing Centre. Here's her story:

"It was Christmas 2016 and I was constantly thinking about the "empty nest" I would have in September 2017.  My mindfulness books kept insisting I shouldn't be thinking about the future, but that was difficult when I was believing what I was thinking....that the future would be lonely without the children at home.

Christmas 2017.  As so often happens, reality was very different to the one I had imagined.  My house was full of life with the boys home.  And earlier in the year, while they were away getting on with their lives as independent adults, I had been enjoying a new dimension to mine - as a volunteer at Willen Hospice.

It is how I came to Willen Hospice, and I wanted to share this with you in case it prompts you, or someone you know, to follow a similarly fulfilling path.

I moved to Milton Keynes from London four years ago and in November 2015 I started working for Matchbox Architects, in Strixton. Neil Scroxton, the Managing Director, took the brave step of employing me to look after the non-technical side of his thriving business even though I knew absolutely nothing about architecture!  So I spent a huge amount of time in an incredibly steep learning curve!  Strangely though, it wasn't my lack of knowledge in architecture that made me question whether or not to take the job, it was having to share an office with Stephen and Gary, Neil's two large dogs! Thankfully we have come to accept each other (me and the dogs that is) and I would even say I am pretty fond of them, as long as they don't come too close!

Although my full-time job kept me busy, I had been thinking for some time how much I would like to do some voluntary work.  So I took a look at the Willen Hospice website and decided to fill in the application form.  I was particularly drawn to the Wellbeing Centre but I could see this would be a full day, mid-week commitment which wouldn't fit in with my full-time employment.  I was interviewed by two lovely nurses who then asked me to take my documents to the Volunteers Department and it was there that I met Tracey Hughes, Volunteer Services Co-ordinator, who made me feel so welcome with her warmth and enthusiasm. 

I mentioned to Tracey that I would love to be involved with the Wellbeing Centre and she asked me whether I could be available for a Wednesday afternoon.  I was about to say it would be impossible when suddenly an idea occurred to me - I would ask my boss whether he would be prepared to donate two hours of my time if I matched him, and he generously said yes!

So every Wednesday afternoon I swap the world of architecture for the the world of Willen's Wellbeing Centre, where the first thing that strikes me every week is that the most noticeable sound is laughter and good humoured conversation.

When I arrive at 1pm lunch is already underway, so I sit down wherever there is a spare place, catch up with the lovely patients I have come to know, and start to get to know the new patients I haven't met before.  I always love a good chat so this is one of the highlights of my afternoon!  Inevitably our conversation turns to whether they feel like joining us for the afternoon's arts and crafts session.  There is never any pressure to join in and sometimes patients decide to have a rest in the lounge instead.  It is our responsibility as volunteers to really listen to the patients, not so that we can offer them advice (they have the dedicated Wellbeing nurses for that important job) but so that we can suggest an alternative activity that fits with their mood or energy level.  A gentle walk to look at the church, a quiet afternoon poring over a jigsaw puzzle, an ad hoc lesson from a visiting nurse in Indian dancing, and a raucous game of scrabble, have all been enjoyable alternatives to the arts and crafts table.  For those patients who do fancy joining us at the arts and crafts table, we chat with each patient about the types of art or craft they would like to do.  Some patients know exactly because this is something they excel at.  Other patients share their reticence with us because they feel they are not skilled artists and don't know where to begin.  Many mention that they have not painted since their school days!  Some patients surprise themselves with the quality of their art.  Some patients don't believe they have any talent at all so simply "jump in" with a heapful of good humour, determined to just have some fun!  Some love the freedom to be left alone to explore their own creative process.  Some enjoy being guided (not by me.....but by other volunteers who are artistically talented!).

Each volunteer brings a different dimension to the Wellbeing Centre, but if you ask any of us how we feel about being part of this unique "family" I think we would all likely say it is a great privilege to enjoy spending a few hours with the extraordinary people who make it such a special place to be.

The greatest lesson I have learned as a volunteer at the Wellbeing Centre is that I can make a contribution to the quality of life of our patients, however small it may be.  They certainly make an enormous contribution to the quality of my life and I thank each and every one of them for the time we spend together."

If you think you could spare a few hours a week and would like to find out more about volunteering for Willen Hospice, please contact Tracey Hughes.


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