Steve Nolan, Chaplain at Princess Alice Hospice
Living with and learning from Covid-19
There was a joke I spotted in a newspaper around the time the Covid-19 lockdown began. Two people were talking and one said, ‘I didn’t expect to give this much up for Lent!’ For anyone unfamiliar with the season, Lent began a mere six weeks ago. Since then everyday life has been radically transformed. Not by the spiritual preparation of self-denial, which is intended to characterise the build up to Easter, but by the arrival of this invidious virus, too small to be seen but powerful enough to separate families and bring the economy to a virtual stand-still.
For the Hospice, the first group to be impacted has been our highly-valued volunteers. Most have been stood down. This has been difficult for both the volunteers and the staff who continue coming to work. The Hospice is a team, and we miss seeing our teammates, many of whom are self-isolating and miss so much the social interaction that working at the Hospice brings. But those of us who are able to still work also feel the loss of the important contributions our volunteers make to the work.
Speaking personally, I feel the loss of my beard! It’s kept my chin warm for 40 years, and provided me with at least a pretence of maturity if not wisdom. But like other colleagues working on the In-Patient Unit, I feel the loss of my individuality. That’s because, like them I’ve gone into uniform. This is part of the new and wide-ranging infection control procedures now in place. Beyond the constant handwashing and the social distancing measures, the thing I find most difficult is having to don the personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to visit a patient. This is for their protection as much as ours, but it creates a barrier between us and those we want to care for. The apron and gloves are one thing. But the real difficulty comes from trying to offer care from inside a mask and goggles.
At the weekend I was asked to visit a young person who was dying. A close family member was in the room with the patient. I donned the full PPE and went into the room. The patient was asleep so I spoke with her very tearful family member. I wasn’t able to shake hands or in any way touch either the relative or the patient. I wasn’t able to offer any comfort for the tears, and the family member was unable to see the reactions on my face as I responded to the emotional pain they were expressing. I was able to offer a prayer, but I had to stand at the foot of the bed and not place a gentle hand on the shoulder, as I might normally have done.
This sense of distancing from patients is shared by the nurses, doctors, social workers and therapists. Shielded behind PPE, we all struggle to project the compassionate care that we are so used to and so skilled at providing. We of course understand the importance of PPE – it protects patients and staff – but we nevertheless feel constrained by its limitations.
But if Covid-19 has anything to teach us (and I’m sure we will learn a great deal from the experience of living with it) it is that human connection and contact is profoundly important to us. Even when we are locked away behind PPE or viewed at a distance inside a computer screen, something in us remains able to reach out and touch the spirit if not the body of another person with humanity and compassion.
Sarah Hopper – Infection Control Lead Nurse
Sarah is Infection Control Lead for Princess Alice Hospice (Senior Staff Nurse) and advises staff at the Hospice and working in the community (doctors and Princess Alice nurses)
Infection control nurse Sarah Hopper is drawing on her training in tropical medicine and her experiences in third world countries in the frontline struggle to combat coronavirus at the Hospice.
Being responsible day to day for systems aimed at preventing harm from infection to patients, visitors and staff, Sarah is now confronting the disease head-on, along with her colleagues in the In-Patient Unit.
“Our care continues, come what may – but we’re being tested to the extreme by this,” she said.
Sarah trained as a nurse before gaining postgraduate qualification from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. She’s travelled extensively, working on infectious disease programmes in places including Cambodia, India and Papua in Indonesia.
Some of the routine precautions at the Hospice are echoes of her former work – such as barrier nursing, isolation, sampling and taking specimens. Plus lots of auditing, constant checking, paperwork and vigilance.
Sarah has herself suffered a couple of bouts of unpleasant diseases in the course of her work overseas – the worst of which was Giardia, a waterborne parasitic illness that afforded her a week in an Indian hospital, witnessing first-hand the sometimes dire effects of a virulent disease.
“The situation we’re now in is hugely different to what we normally undertake on the ward,” she said. “Staff numbers are unfortunately affected by the crisis – some people are self-isolating for various reasons whether because they have possible symptoms, or they’re at home because of family members’ self-isolation.
“There’s a massive increase in what we have to do – including new practices and ways of carrying out our work. So many additional people to take into consideration – people in every single department, not just on the ward.
“Different behaviours and protocols have to be adopted – it’s a whole new working environment at the highest level of control.”
And it’s not made easier by every colleague having to bear the strain of working in a pressurised environment, then going home to worried families – with the ever-present risk to health posed by the coronavirus, Sarah said she’s inspired by her colleagues and how they have stepped up. “People are working flat-out without let-up either here or when they’re at home. They’re scared, there’s huge pressure, but everyone – ward staff, the doctors and nurses on the community team – is rising to the challenge and I’m so proud to be part of the entire Hospice team.
“Everyone – housekeeping, facilities, medical, catering as well as the clinical staff, are demonstrating such flexibility and innovative ways of delivering their services.”
The Hospice’s usual way of working does not normally need the infrastructure of a specialist isolation and infection control establishment. So Sarah and her colleagues have had to adapt their workspace and the ward, to create as safe a system as they possibly can – given the constraints of the building and the equipment they have.
“The nurses working with isolated patients are now expected to work in that isolation environment without coming out for the duration of their shift – carrying out their duties, taking breaks and meeting up – all in a segregated zone,” she said. “They are allowed out for lunch if they change their uniforms, but they are specifically in that unit for the duration of their shift.”
Combining self-protection and protection of the patients, with safeguarding the health and welfare of vital visitors, is not easy. “We are doing our utmost to enable visitors to see their loved ones, but we are handling this on a case by case basis.”
Sarah, 41, already juggles her life as a mum of two – Ruby, five and Freddie, one – alongside her job at the Hospice. The current crisis means she’s relying on the help of others’ kindness and help: Ruby’s currently in infant school as her Mum’s a key worker, and Freddie’s spending his days with his Dad while his usual nursery is closed.
Being a single mum can add extra stress to difficult days, but things are working out well enough at the moment, she said.
And at work, she’s immensely grateful to her colleagues for their support and team spirit: “Thanks so much everyone for the wonderful support you are giving me, each other and our patients in this difficult time,” she said.
And to the community, who have rallied with donating the PPE items such as gloves, masks and other equipment which has been desperately needed, she said: “Don’t forget we are still here . . . we still desperately need your support to continue to deliver our outstanding service to the community.”
Angela and Fred – Family Volunteers
“Mum, can I have a go at that?” is a refrain heard by parents of youngsters keen to have a go at doing things grown-ups do.
Family volunteering at Princess Alice Hospice means youngsters aged seven and over can now support the charity by helping alongside their parents or carers in various roles.
One parent who’s grabbed the opportunity to encourage her 10-year-old to try something new and take on some responsibility, has found it’s a win-win situation.
Angela Grimes both works at the Hospice and volunteers at events – accompanied by 10-year-old Fred, who lends a hand under the watchful eye of his Mum.
“I’ve done quite a bit so far,” said Fred, who goes to school in Banstead. “I helped at the summer fete – setting up the stalls, working alongside grown-ups.”
He’s particularly keen on helping the facilities team, who make sure the events at the Hospice run without any technical issues. He’s also turned his hand to helping at the annual Towpath Trundle and Light Up A Life events – fetching and carrying and making sure the events are all set up to run smoothly.
Angela said: “It really is a great way of us spending family time together, being busy – and volunteering for the Hospice means Fred knows his contribution is doing something positive in the community.
“It’s helped him gain confidence and learn life lessons in a pleasant environment – being part of the ‘backroom’ team at events gives him a great boost and sense of achievement.
“He’s gained experience of mixing with people of all ages – and made friends with a number of people who he’d never have otherwise had the chance to meet.”
Volunteering Manager Vanessa Hill said she and her colleagues had become aware that families would welcome the chance to volunteer as a group and be an active part of their local community.
She said: “Volunteering as a family can be a fun leisure activity – for example helping at fundraising events such as the Santa Fun Run.”
Fred and his Mum will be at this year’s Santa Fun Run, helping set up and hand out Santa suits, then act as marshalls to guide runners around one of the 5km courses.
Vanessa said: “We need more family volunteers like Fred and Angela at the Santa Fun Run. Other suitable roles which we’re very keen to see families doing together, are Community Fundraisers and Compassionate Neighbours.
“Community Fundraisers do things like distributing leaflets locally, as a family liaising with local shops and businesses who have collection tins – collecting them and returning them to Princess Alice Hospice.
“We also need Compassionate Neighbours – again, done as a family, to visit a person locally and provide social support by chatting, going for walks, playing games, having a cup of tea and so on.”
The family volunteering scheme is designed with the volunteers’ safety at the forefront.
Vanessa said “Children have to be seven and over and must volunteer with a registered family member. To volunteer as Compassionate Neighbours there will be a training programme and interview process to be completed.
“The young people would never be expected to undertake any of these roles on their own; we expect their adult family member to be with them at all times.
“We want to recognise the contribution and commitment young people make, embed volunteering and be the start of their relationship with Princess Alice Hospice.”
Martin Osborn, Hospice Facilities Manager, said: “I think it’s a great idea to involve younger family members in volunteering at the Hospice events; extra pairs of hands are always welcome and it offers a chance for children to gain confidence and experience of helping others in a practical way.
“Fred had been a delight to work with and is always welcome in our team.”
The time commitment for each role varies – some are one-off events while others ask for a regular commitment.
Each adult family volunteer can be accompanied by two young volunteers from their family.
To find out more and discover the opportunities opening up now, contact the Volunteering Team at firstname.lastname@example.org 01372 461856. For Santa Fun Runs volunteering, visit https://www.pah.org.uk/santafunrun/about-us/volunteering/
Leo Tye – volunteer buyer
One of the most unusual volunteer roles among the 97 at Princess Alice Hospice, has been held for the past 10 years by Leo Tye. Leo – short for Leonora – is a volunteer buyer, meaning she sources items for the Hospice shops, which might not otherwise be available via donations. For example, distinctive pink telescopic umbrellas, jewellery and scarves, cushions, bags, rugs and furniture.
Now 11 years retired from a career as a John Lewis buyer, she has an eye for suitable items and is skilled in negotiating the best deals from suppliers in order to fill the gaps in what’s on offer at the Hospice’s 47 shops.
Some of the items she sources are very specific and unlikely to be donated in the numbers required – such as the 800 fedora hats stocked every year.
“These are phenomenally popular in the areas close to racecourses and other sporting venues – such as Epsom and Kempton Park racecourses,” she said.
Another string to Leo’s bow is sourcing the designs for the Hospice’s Christmas cards each year.
She researches the latest styles and popularity of theme, prices and puts together a range of cards to suit people’s budgets from basic to luxury.
The annual process starts in the November of the previous year – so this autumn sees her gearing up for Christmas 2020.
“The theme of peace and joy is eternally popular,” she said. “And we always have cards to appeal to all denominations.”
Sales are buoyant, she says – underlined by the fact that the Hospice shops sold 23,619 packs of Christmas cards between them last Christmas
“The job is very rewarding, and I’m in a fabulous team,” says Leo, who’s been based at both the Hospice in Esher and now the distribution centre in West Molesey.
Neither is too far from home – she’s lived in Claygate for 39 years with her husband George, where sons Theo and Alexander were brought up.
“I was one of the original Claygate and Esher Working Mothers Group,” she said. “There are still some of us around!”
Jenny Hobson – Bereavement Support Volunteer
Jenny Hobson fits in her role as bereavement support volunteer alongside a very busy life in retirement and has found not only deep satisfaction from the work, but enduring friendships as well.
Jenny has lived in Shepperton for about six years – where she moved to be closer to her two sons and their families, after her husband, Jim, died in 2013. Married for 50 years, they had been enjoying retirement in Norfolk for 20 years. After her husband’s death, Jenny’s brother David also died – which she said was “very hard”.
“I felt the need to make a new life, and at the same time be a little closer to my sons without being a burden to them,” she said. “They are both around an hour away which works well for us all.”
Settling in to her life in Surrey, she met someone who already volunteered at the Hospice – and who suggested she might be interested in a bereavement support role.
The main aim of the role is to provide bereavement support to bereaved families and friends after the death of patients who have been under the care of the hospice.
Jenny’s varied career in performing arts and then teaching and as a social services children’s adviser, had honed her people skills and provided experience that would prove invaluable in her volunteering role.
She said: “In my social services job – as under-eights adviser to nurseries and childminders – it was essential to be non-judgemental, a skill that is sometimes needed when working with clients.”
She went along to an open evening at the Hospice: “I was very impressed by the whole atmosphere.
“Having in the past been involved in all sorts of events, mainly to do with my children’s schools, Scouts and so on, I felt that a change of direction would be interesting and rewarding.”
Jenny’s initial work was as a telephone volunteer – which she started after a short training period.
“You do this from home, at a time to suit yourself,” she said – which fitted in very well with her other regular activities. She’s a keen dog walker and bridge player, also finding time to fit in a psychology course, amateur theatre and travelling.
“Generally we were asked to contact around 10 clients a month and feedback was given at a monthly meeting,” she said. “This was a gentle start over a period of about a year to what became a pathway to the fascinating, sometimes challenging route via the more intensive training to become a member of the 1-1 support team.”
She felt ready to move on to another role – bereavement support volunteer, based at the Hospice itself in Esher.
“The training took three months – a whole day each week with an obligation to write quite an in depth journal at the end of each session,” she said. “It was necessary to have an interview before being accepted on to the course, plus one at the end before I was accepted on to the team.
“The course was intensive and challenging, but hugely stimulating and enjoyable .We got to know each other in considerable depth. Friendships were made, many of which continue today.”
She finds the supporting structure behind the role very reassuring.
“We get huge support, advice when it’s needed and ongoing training, which is really useful.
“As volunteers we are very well looked after and are made to feel valued,” she said.
Jenny said that, as bereavement support volunteers are expected to support a minimum of three people at a time, life can get busy; however appointments are made at mutually agreeable times, so it is possible to work round other commitments.
“We see people in the early stages of bereavement, sometimes overwhelmed by their grief – or maybe taking on too much on a daily basis to cover or hide their pain,” she said.
“It is extremely rewarding when a client begins to see a chink of light in their darkness; also witnessing their sense of relief that much of what they are experiencing is normal.
“We cannot offer solutions or wave a magic wand, but we can help them find their own way down what can be a very bumpy road.”
There are challenges as a 1-1 supporter. Some families have very complicated histories and ongoing issues, and sometimes clients wander away from the central issue of their particular loss.
Jenny said: “It is therefore important to keep them focussed.
“While empathising with clients it can never be about us.
“Over a period of 12 sessions we are privy to very private and personal information about people, but we have to maintain boundaries. This can occasionally be difficult.”
She said clients appreciate the opportunity to sit in a quiet room with someone who is completely impartial and non-judgemental – that anything they say is totally confidential.
“They come on a weekly basis if possible and they appreciate that it is their time and that they can be completely open and honest about their feelings,” she said
Bereavement support volunteers are expected to attend regular remembrance meetings where relatives can look at their loved one’s name in the Book of Remembrance. Jenny does every other month.
She’s also looking forward to an additional role at the Hospice; accompanying a new Pets As Therapy dog, which she already looks after regularly and which has been assessed and accepted as suitable.
For more information about the volunteering roles in Bereavement Support at Princess Alice Hospice, contact the Volunteering team on 01372 461856 or email email@example.com
Alison and Stuart were childhood sweethearts who moved to London from a small village in the north east of Scotland in 1982. They intended to stay for two years, but Alison is still here. Being away from all her family made Stuart’s diagnosis all the more difficult. Stuart was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, which started as a small mole on his leg, in 2001. Over the next 18 months the cancer spread and by Christmas 2002, he was unable to walk. The cancer had also spread to other areas in his body, including his brain, changing his personality.
“Stuart became very angry at being unwell and decided not to tell his family in Scotland the full extent of the cancer. They knew he was ill, but were unaware of how ill he really was, which put incredible pressure on me, but I knew it was Stuarts way of coping.
Whilst I could do whatever I could to help in a practical way, I felt I couldn’t help him with his emotions. I was also feeling overwhelmed and worried about our two sons, Iain and Alex who were only nine and 12 at the time. After having to call an ambulance on 27th December just to get him in to bed, Stuart was referred to the Hospice. An appointment with his consultant at St Georges Hospital on January 3rd 2003, told us both that Stuart had already lived for nine months longer than was expected, so we actually left that meeting in quite good spirits knowing that we’d had more time together. Stuart was still very angry though, the Chaplaincy Team at the Hospice visited him regularly and with all the positivity of the staff he came into contact with, they helped him to lose his fear and accept what was happening, he then became peaceful and content. ‘The boys began to spend a lot of time at the Hospice and were always welcomed and chatted to by staff and volunteers. They never felt scared and when Stuart died on 14th January, the boys were supported by the Bereavement Team who helped them enormously.
They wouldn’t talk to me for fear of upsetting me and I knew they were keeping it to themselves, so the support they received was invaluable. In the years that followed, I went back to work, but my youngest son Iain really struggled, thinking his mum wasn’t coming home every day. I called the Hospice to see if they could point me in the right direction in terms of some help for him and before I knew it, the very same bereavement counsellor was on my doorstep. I couldn’t quite believe that after two years, the Hospice would still support us. They never abandoned us. What they did for us was above and beyond what I would have expected. I knew then that I would do something for the Hospice, but I didn’t know what or when.
Then in December 2018, a neighbour of mine was admitted and I came to the Hospice to visit. I felt then that I could come back and offer my help in return for all the help the Hospice gave me and my boys and so I applied to be a volunteer and was accepted. Now I am an Ambassador and Community Fundraiser and get involved in all sorts of volunteering ranging from organising collecting tins for local shops and GP surgeries to speaking to children at local schools about the Hospice and the care it provides. I never know what I am going to be asked to do and I really like that. When I was working in London, I was part of a large team and I am now part of the Hospice team. I enjoy it so much.”
Fiona Bath – events project co-ordinator volunteer
Retired project manager Fiona Bath has used her working life skills in a variety of roles since becoming an events project co-ordinator volunteer for Princess Alice Hospice.
Having spent the final 11 years of her employment in property development and refurbishment projects – spending countless hours driving all over the country – she decided to decompress for a few months before taking up any new pursuits.
Her first forays into active retirement have been to take up yoga, walking, going to the gym and starting a three-year garden design diploma course.
“I love gardening and wanted to keep my brain active,” she said.
It was yoga that led her to Princess Alice – via a fellow yoga student who is a garden volunteer at the Hospice’s Esher base and who recommended she give volunteering a go.
Fiona, who lives in Epsom, had often driven past the building on her daily commute – she once worked for Air Products in Hersham. She knew about the Hospice because friends and colleagues had been cared for there over the years.
Having checked out the volunteering opportunities on the website, Fiona was attracted to the events project co-ordinator role because it requires an array of the skills she has learned and developed during her working life.
She added: “It offers a variety of things to get involved in, doesn’t require regular commitment and you can dip in and out as much as you wish.”
After a simple recruitment process, Fiona became a member of the Community & Events Team.
She has since joined in or helped organise a host of events and activities at the Hospice and further afield, meeting dozens of new people and expanding her experiences.
Her first foray into events was to co-host a get-together at the Hospice, for a group of fundraising walkers at Easter. This has been followed by joining cheer stations for the London Marathon and Ride London, contributing to the Towpath Trundle and Summer Fete with this year’s Santa Fun Run already penciled in.
She was tasked with handling the summer fete live music bookings, co-ordinating the performance timetable, liaising with the bands and performers, and drawing up a layout for the fete.
Her project management background came in very useful, as she found herself within her comfort zone in a different setting.
On the day, apart from her responsibility for the music offering, she said she also found herself pitching in and helping out in other roles as and when – which she admits was thoroughly enjoyable, if a little tiring.
“I roped in my husband, Paul, as well – popped him in a Hospice tee-shirt, and we spent a lovely day. By the end, we were ready for home, but having really enjoyed ourselves along the way.”
The highlights of volunteering for Fiona are the variety of the roles, the flexibility, ability to undertake some of the admin side at home in the evenings or weekends – which means she doesn’t compromise any of her leisure or learning activities.
“Overall, the satisfaction of having made a difference is a great feeling,” she said.
>>>> The events project co-ordinator role has a few criteria to consider, for anyone thinking it might suit them to take part.
Desirable skills and personal qualities:
- Experience of event organising/project management
- Trustworthy and reliable
- Friendly and approachable
- Passion for the Hospice and good knowledge of the services we provide
- Outgoing and willing to be ‘hands-on’
- Good knowledge of the services we offer
- A commitment to our values of integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence
For more information visit https://www.pah.org.uk/join-our-team/want-volunteer/volunteering-roles/
Richard – community allotment volunteer
It was while working on his own allotment that Richard came across an ideal opportunity to volunteer for the Hospice. Last autumn the Hospice had acquired an overgrown allotment and was looking for someone to help bring it back to life. Having recently become ‘semi’ retired, the timing was perfect for Richard to become the Hospice’s first allotment volunteer.
“It just happened by chance,” says Richard. “I’ve now got more time to do different things. I knew about the Hospice because my mother-in-law passed away there 15 years ago, so it’s also a way I can give something back.”
Alongside his own allotment, Richard has been working on the Hospice’s allotment for two hours every Saturday, clearing it and getting it ready for planting. “I’ve had my allotment for many years,” he says, “and it’s really good for your mental health. I had a stressful job in the past and it’s been a great place to escape to.” The intention with the Hospice allotment is to make it a successful growing project with sessions for people with life-limiting conditions, those who are caring for them and people who have been recently bereaved to come together to support each other and share a love of gardening. Richard says: “They’ll be able to do as much or as little as they want – whether that’s chat, do some strenuous digging, some light weeding or pick and eat some of the produce.”
Richard has now been joined by two other allotment volunteers. “It’s very rewarding,” he says, “and it’s enjoyable meeting new people.” He would certainly recommend the role: “If you’ve got the time, it’s a way you can give something back while doing something a bit different too.”
Becca – night nurse
“I see the relief on people’s faces when we arrive”
Becca, a former intensive care nurse, is now a night nurse for Princess Alice Hospice. Her job is intense, demanding and very rewarding.
The night nurses provide much more than medical care. Night-time can be frightening when someone is nearing the end of life. Nurses like Becca can make it a little easier, by settling the patient and just being there when needed. That might mean giving them medication, changing a dressing or reassuring them about a symptom that’s worrying them. Or sometimes just sitting with them, so they know they’re not alone. In many cases, they’re granting a patient’s dearest wish – to spend their final hours in the comforting, familiar surroundings of their own home.
“Not long ago, I was called to sit with Jay. During the latter part of the day, he had deteriorated rapidly, and his wife Naina was worn out. She’d injured her back caring for her husband and was extremely concerned about his welfare. The couple’s teenage sons were at home and needing support too.
When I arrived, Jay’s symptoms were quite severe, so I gave him pain relief to settle him and then monitored his medication during the night to ensure he was as comfortable as possible. After talking to the family, I sat in the room next door while they stayed by his bedside. I popped my head around the door regularly, to check everything was ok. At one point, his wife got into bed beside her husband for the last time. Reassured by my presence, she managed to grab an hour’s much-needed sleep.
Although being with patients and their families at such a critical time is a privilege, it can sometimes take its toll emotionally. But making a difference to local people, like Jay and Naina, makes it all worthwhile.”
Following our support to Jay, his family sent this lovely message:
“From the moment Becca stepped into our home I felt a huge sense of relief…I felt I was not alone. Rebecca was kind, gentle, reassuring and very professional. She had an amazing sense of calmness about her and an ability to comfort without being intrusive. For that night, I was able to be Jay’s wife and not his carer. I was able to fall asleep next to him, with my arms wrapped around him, in the knowledge that he was being cared for and was in safe hands with Rebecca watching over him. For that time, I will be forever grateful to her” – Naina
Lizzie – volunteer
Lizzie has a career that keeps her very busy, so she helps out at the Hospice on an occasional basis, filling in gaps wherever she can. One day she wouldn’t miss, however, is Christmas Day, which she has spent volunteering in the Hospice coffee shop every year bar two in last ten years. “It’s such a lovely day,” she says, “it’s like being part of one big family. And the Christmas dinner is amazing!”
She first came across the Hospice in 2002, when her father was cared for there, but it was several years later before she decided to volunteer. She started volunteering in the coffee shop but has also worked on reception as well as in the wards. Lizzie is the founder of the events and PR company Halls and Halls, so her time is limited. “I can’t commit to regular volunteering,” she says, “like being a driver for instance, but I like doing the filling-in roles.” It’s a very different world too: “I work in a really pressurised industry, whereas here it’s all about the people. No one ever says no to anyone, it’s a very kind environment.”
Christmas Day at the Hospice is particularly special, but also on a personal level for Lizzie. “My dad’s name is in the book of remembrance and we hang a dedication to him on the Christmas tree,” she says. “There is a gentleman who comes in every year for a cup of tea before his Christmas dinner – it’s become a tradition – both his parents were cared for at the Hospice and then one year he came in with his girlfriend, then a few years later, he appeared with his twins. We’re all part of a journey.”
How busy it is on Christmas Day depends on whether many of the patients have been well enough to go home. Either way, Lizzie stays for the day, only returning to her family in the late afternoon. “I feel very special,” she says “my family are so supportive. It’s very grounding working here and you value your family more. You’re much more thankful. Life is about building memories and being kind.”
During the year, Lizzie meets relatives and also patients, particularly when she is volunteering on the wards. “I love interacting with the patients,” she says. “One lady said all she wanted was a gin and tonic, which I got for her. I’ve never experienced such a rewarding feeling in my life. To see her face, and her family’s face (they didn’t know she could have one). She held on so tight to that glass! It was so wonderful to be able to do that one thing for her.”
Lizzie also appreciates how hard it can be to be a relative coming into the Hospice. “I listen to their story,” she says. “Just taking five minutes out of your day to ask ‘how are you doing?’ is important. I hope I give some value back, some normality in their day.”
Would Lizzie recommend volunteering at the Hospice? “One hundred per cent!” she says. “I feel valued, informed and part of a community. If you want to give something back, do it for something as amazing as the Hospice. It’s not a morbid or sad place as some people might think. It’s about making memories for people and ensuring they have a good end-of-life. There are so many different roles and the Hospice couldn’t run without its volunteers.”
Natalie Wiltshire-Grundy – Volunteer
From shop Volunteer to Sales Assistant
Living in Twickenham, Natalie has always been aware of the Hospice’s role in the community but when the local shop moved to bigger premises, she says: “It looked so beautiful. I’d always been interested in volunteering and I fancied working there.” As both a volunteer and now a staff member at the shop, she’s a proud part of a team that ensures the shop is always looking its best: “If there’s even a hanger hanging the wrong way round, we’re on to it!”
Now in her early 40s, Natalie spent 20 years commuting into the City, before stopping work to spend time with her younger son before he started school. She began volunteering at the shop in 2016, for one morning each week, while also managing her own freelance legal pa company. “My career has been very office based,” she explains, “so I’ve loved being out and about with the public. I’m a sociable person and this gives me my ‘fix’!”
As a volunteer, Natalie worked on the till, as well as keeping the displays looking good and sorting through the jewellery and bric-a-brac. A favourite part of the role for Natalie is talking with the customers, donors and fellow volunteers and staff in the shop. “There are volunteers who’ve been here for 20 years,” she says. “It’s amazing how they’ve dedicated their time to the charity, and they are such lovely people.” Many of the customers have personal connections with the Hospice and hearing their stories and how highly they value the Hospice’s services clearly motivates Natalie. “The more positive feedback you hear from them,” she says, “the more proud I feel working for the Hospice.”
Recently Natalie chose to take on a part-time employed role as a Sales Assistant, working three days per week. She explains: “With my freelance business I could work my own hours but I was actually looking for more routine. I’d been made to feel so incredibly welcome as a volunteer and it’s such a lovely shop, so when the vacancy came up, I didn’t want the opportunity to pass me by.”
One of her main responsibilities is to take in and sort through all the very many donations they receive. “That can be a little overwhelming sometimes but we receive some amazing items,” she says. “We make sure we’ve always got beautiful things on display – we have themed displays, for example for the royal wedding and Father’s Day – and that the shop is kept neat and tidy.”
It’s clear that Natalie loves working at the shop – so much so that she’s persuaded several of her friends to start volunteering there too. “I feel very lucky to work here with such an amazing team” she says.
Maureen Thomas – shop volunteer
From charity shopper to volunteer
Maureen, 67, describes herself as a ‘charity shopper’ and she has been supporting her local Hospice shop in Egham for many years. Now she’s standing on the other side of the till as a volunteer and is loving it just as much.
Maureen had been considering volunteering for some time and started at the shop shortly after retiring two years ago. She says: “It was the shop or nothing. I don’t drive and this is only a 20-minute walk away.” She spends an afternoon there each week, more if needed, mostly working on the tills but also putting clothes out. “I’m a social person, a bit of a chatterbox,” she says, “so I enjoy meeting the customers.”
Although Maureen has no personal connection with the work of the Hospice, her brother was in a hospice in Toronto, Canada. “I know they do a fantastic job,” she says. “And it does make me feel good to volunteer. It’s a very happy shop and great fun. I could write a book about the shop – the regulars, the camaraderie among the staff and volunteers and the loveliness of the manager! If anyone is thinking about volunteering and has a spare couple of hours, I’d say just do it!”
Maureen gave her time recently in a different way when she was emailed asking if she could help support the Hospice stand at her local fete. “It was a very interesting experience,” she says. “We were inviting people to write on a card things they wanted to do before they die and pin it on a board. Some people scurried past and others chatted but didn’t fill out a card. I spoke with one family and the children, whose grandad had passed away in a hospice, all filled out cards. I’m exceedingly glad I volunteered there.”
Alison Edwards – Volunteer
“I love every minute of volunteering!”
Ask Alison about her volunteering work for Princess Alice Hospice over the past three years and she has to think for a moment. She has done so much for us, it’s quite a long list. “At first I helped at events like the London Marathon, manning the Cheer Station and meeting and greeting the runners. Then I started to help out the Fundraising team in the office, doing research, stock taking and general admin.”
As time went on, Alison got more involved. “I’m now the local coordinator for Staines and Egham which means I distribute collection tins and leaflets to shops, pubs, cafes and clubs. And because of my teaching background, I was asked to become an Ambassador for Princess Alice. I give talks to organisations and clubs mainly. Recently I spoke at a golf club dinner telling the members how the money they’d raised for us is spent.”
“We got amazing care – it was a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Like many volunteers, Alison wanted to give something back for the care her husband, Les, received from Princess Alice. “Les wanted to stay at home so we had a home nurse and an occupational therapist who were brilliant. But when he got more poorly, he had to go into the Hospice for two weeks. The care was amazing – they looked after me, my kids, the whole family.”
“Towards the end Les made it clear he wanted to be at home. So they moved heaven and earth to make it happen. Equipment arrived, we had round the clock care and Steve, the Hospice chaplain, arranged for a Roman Catholic priest to visit. And when Les died, Steve led the funeral service, making it inclusive for everybody just as he had wanted.”
“I’ve made lots of friends.”
Alison enjoys the works she does for us. And there’s been another benefit. “I meet lots of new people. In fact, I met my two best friends through volunteering. It’s been a win-win situation for me.”
All volunteers at Princess Alice are trained and supported in the work they do. “There is generic training about working for the Hospice but also specific training for your role. I’ve always felt respected and valued for what I do.”
“I’ve even got my dog, Millie, to volunteer!”
Volunteering has changed Alison’s life. She’s been given new opportunities and the chance to meet new people. She would recommend volunteering for Princess Alice to anyone. “It’s so rewarding and whatever your skills, there’ll be a role for you.”
Alison is such a great ambassador for us that she’s even roped her family in to help. “My daughter ran the Marathon for Princess Alice. And even my dog, Millie, has got involved. Every other Tuesday she comes to the Hospice with me to work as a Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog. She loves meeting the patients and families and being made a fuss of.”
Tim Iredale – Corporate Partnerships Lead
“I love working here. The days fly by.”
Tim used to work for a recruitment agency – until he found himself another job at Princess Alice! “I’d come across vacancies in Fundraising and I’d think ‘that job sounds a lot more interesting than mine!” he says, “so one day I decided to test the water by volunteering. I was lucky enough to get a placement in the Communications team at Princess Alice. Then, after a while, I was offered a job in the Fundraising team.”
It was a tough decision to make but Tim has never regretted it. “I went with my heart,” he says, “and I’ve loved it. It’s really interesting and challenging.” And, of course, there’s the satisfaction of knowing he’s making a difference. “When I worked in recruitment I always used to almost apologise for my job. Now I’m proud to say I’m a fundraiser.”
“The variety in this job is great. Who knows what I’ll be doing?”
Tim has loved working at the Hospice so much since those early days as a volunteer that he has more recently moved into a new role, both for him and the Hospice, as our first Corporate Partnerships Lead. He said, “Some organisations talk a lot about developing their staff but the Hospice really does put the theory into practice and I’m a walking, talking example of that!” He added, “Not only do I have this new role but, because the Hospice tries to recognise people’s talents and interests, I was also part of the team that helped design and create our new website. Development at Princess Alice Hospice is about much more than just getting a new job title!”
“I love my team – I consider them really good friends.”
Princess Alice Hospice is no ordinary working environment. Tim noticed the difference right away. “I’ve had jobs where I’ve trudged to work thinking ‘I don’t want to be here.’ But at Princess Alice, there’s a genuine sense of warmth – like a family. I live in London so I have quite a commute but I love it here. People I don’t even know will stop and chat.” And, of course, there’s the added bonus that everyone at Princess Alice enjoys. “I get the satisfaction of going home at the end of the day knowing that I’ve done something good.”
Serena Shakshir – Volunteer
“It’s the most life affirming thing you can do.”
In year 13 at school and with A levels to study for, Serena didn’t have a lot of time to spare. But as she was hoping to study medicine, she was really keen to get some experience caring for people. So she was delighted to be offered the opportunity to volunteer for four hours a week at Princess Alice Hospice.
“I worked as a ward support volunteer. So I’d do things like restocking the ward supply cupboards and the patients’ personal cupboards,’ says Serena. “Then at dinner time I’d help deliver the food. It was very rewarding because the patients really appreciated it.”
“I think the key thing is to have valuable time with people.”
As time went on, Selena was allowed to help with basic patient care, helping them use the toilet, making sure they were comfortable in bed and doing mouth care for them. She really enjoyed this one to one contact with the patients.
“They love to reminisce and share their wisdom with me. Being with people at their most vulnerable was a privilege. Once I spent three hours of my shift just sitting with a lady because she was feeling sad. I gave her a hand massage and it really seemed to calm her down.”
“It confirmed my career choice so it was a very positive experience.”
Working at the Hospice confirmed Serena’s choice to go into medicine. “I surprised myself how strong I was. Now, knowing that I can cope with it, I feel a duty to do it.”
It has also helped her secure a place at medical school. “Being able to talk about my experience at the interview helped. I was able to demonstrate how I’ve grown.”
Serena also liked the fact that she has come out of her experience with something to show for it. “As part of my placement, I had to fill in a workbook which recorded all the things I’d done. At the end I was awarded a care certificate qualification which is amazing.”
“Whatever you do will help people. Just go in there and do what you can.”
Work experience at the Hospice isn’t just for people thinking about careers in medicine. It can benefit anyone. Serena’s advice? “Having the chance to help people is very special. So don’t be scared. You never have to do anything you don’t want to do. It made me a more caring person, a better person.”
Keith Sturge – DHL
“We like working for a company that cares”
International courier company DHL deliver items all over the world. But they also deliver much needed support to Princess Alice Hospice. Keith Sturge from DHL’s office in Slough explains how the company first got involved, “The husband of a colleague had been cared for at Princess Alice Hospice. One day I went to the Hospice with her to see his name in the book of remembrance. Our involvement with the Hospice really started from there.”
“Because we go to the Hospice, we can see where our money is going”
Every September around 25 employees of DHL celebrate Global Volunteer Day by giving up a day to work for PAH. They’re put to work painting garden furniture, mending fences, delivering leaflets and helping out with admin. “We get a lot out of volunteering,” he says, “It’s so rewarding – it adds to our sense of wellbeing.”
Being at the Hospice also made Keith and his colleagues realise just how badly their support is needed. “When we realised how much it costs to run a hospice, it spurred us on”, Keith says. Over time DHL’s support for the Hospice has grown so that as well as volunteering for us, they have become some of our most enthusiastic fundraisers.
“You’d be surprised how much it contributes to team work”
The company runs events all year round to raise money for the Hospice. The charity car wash day alone raised a fantastic £1,200. There are also book sales, raffles and collections throughout the year and one brave lady took part in the Santa Fun Run. “Fundraising is good for getting us together as a team and doing something different,” says Keith, “It’s a real bonding experience.”
What’s really great is that the company fully supports everything their employees do for the Hospice. DHL provide a Match It! programme which enables the Hospice to receive further funds in recognition of DHL employee volunteering and fundraising activities. Fortunately for us, DHL are keen to keep up their relationship with the Hospice. “We have personal attachments to PAH,” says Keith, “It’s close to our hearts.”
“Take a brave step and go there”
Keith doesn’t hesitate to recommend working with Princess Alice Hospice to other local companies: “At some point in your life someone in your family, company or community may need help from the Hospice. It’s opened my eyes to what end of life care is and what we can all contribute. Plus it’s such a welcoming place to be – I find it a very calming experience and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
Seeva Sawmynaden – Volunteer driver
“I feel like we’re doing a good thing”
After a long career in nursing, you’d think 72 year old Seeva would want to put his feet up. Not at all. Seeva is one of our highly dedicated and long-serving volunteers. Altogether, he has volunteered for us for an amazing 17 years, driving patients to the Hospice and helping out in the coffee shop.
“It’s nice for them to be out, even for just one day”
Volunteer drivers play a really important role. Many of our patients are elderly and unable to drive or use public transport. So drivers like Seeva pick them up from home and bring them to the day hospice to enjoy activities and some much-needed company. He understands how important this weekly outing is to many of his passengers, who spend most of their time alone. He even makes sure they enjoy the journey by chatting to them, or putting on the radio if they prefer.
“I enjoy the contact with people”
But what does Seeva get out of volunteering for the Hospice? Seeva strongly believes that it’s important to give back to his community. And he also feels a special connection to the Hospice who cared for his wife back in the late 1980s.
Now living alone, Seeva really enjoys his volunteering days. He is able to claim mileage for his driving, and his time is given very gladly. “I get something out of it,“ he says, “it gets me out of the house.”
“It’s like a family”
As well as meeting the patients, Seeva also enjoys being part of the Princess Alice Hospice team. He feels very valued and supported. “There’s always training available and we can get help and advice whenever we need it.”
Seeva really enjoys the social side too, getting to know other volunteers and staff. He even recruited an ex-colleague of his to join the driving team when she retired! And speaking of retirement, does he have any plans to take a well-earned rest? Absolutely not. “I intend to carry on volunteering indefinitely. I want to continue as long as I can.” We’re very glad to hear it.
Martin Shine – Senior healthcare assistant
“Every day is a learning day because each patient is different”
Martin has been at the Hospice for six years now. He works on the inpatient unit, giving personal care to patients nearing the end of their lives. It’s very different from his previous job as a manager, but Martin has no regrets. “My happiness is more important than money“ he says, “I enjoy coming to work every day.”
As a care assistant, Martin has a lot of contact with the patients. He washes them, helps them eat and drink and talks to them. “You feel that you’ve achieved something. You’ve made sure that their last days are comfortable and pain free.” It’s a very special relationship and Martin feels privileged to be part of it. “There are special moments when they hold your hand or say thank you – and it’s a real thank you. I thank God I can do this job.”
“Sometimes it’s not about words – it’s just being there for them”
Does it take a special kind of person to do this job? “You have to care. That’s the most important thing. But you also need to be sensitive and intuitive – and a good communicator, because we spend a lot of time talking to patients.”
Martin feels especially privileged to be with a patient in their last moments. Some patients have no family and so a member of staff will sit with them as they pass away. “We talk to them and hold their hand so they know we’re there. And after they have passed, we go on caring for them, washing them, changing their nightgown and brushing their hair – it’s about giving them dignity and respect.”
“No matter who I work with, we’re all working to the same high standard”
Like many of the staff, Martin considers himself lucky to work at the Hospice. He really values being part of a team where everyone is dedicated to delivering high quality care. “We’re not miracle workers. But we treat each patient as an individual and give them great care tailored to their needs.”
Martin says he and his colleagues are well supported and trained for the job they do. “All healthcare assistants are mentored for the first three months and we all take a qualification to prove we have met the standard that’s expected. I’m a mentor myself and it’s really rewarding to help someone else on their journey to becoming an outstanding carer.”
Heather Phillips – Nurse
“There’s always something positive in every day”
Heather has spent most of her nursing career in palliative care. Why? “I like the fact that you have a relationship with your patients and you’re with them to the end.” Today, we’re lucky enough to have her working as a bank staff nurse in our inpatient unit. She loves her job, because she knows that she’s making a difference every single day.
“We all have the same goal – very good care”
One of the things Heather really enjoys is having the time and resources to care for the patient and their family. Much of her time on the IPU is spent helping to relieve and manage symptoms. Sometimes getting things under control can take a while, but it’s so satisfying when she succeeds in making a patient comfortable again.
Heather also works in the day hospice. “The patients love coming. They see their friends and it’s a really happy, positive atmosphere.”
“We look out for each other”
Heather really values being part of a team who care about and support each other. “It’s very friendly here,” she says, “and we’re really well supported with regular supervision and what we call ‘reflection’ sessions to talk things through. That’s so important in this job.”
But it’s not all about work. The Hospice is also a very sociable place where strong friendships are made. Staff from all departments enjoy getting together for quiz nights and the community choir. We also support staff by offering flexible, family-friendly working hours – which, as a busy mum, Heather really appreciates.
Care that goes beyond nursing
Our staff always go the extra mile. And Heather is no different. Last Valentine’s Day, one of her elderly patients on the ward mentioned that he was sorry he wouldn’t be able to give his neighbour a card as he normally did. Heather helped him buy a card from the Hospice shop and delivered it to the lady on her way home from work. Like much of what we do, it was a small thing but it meant so much.
Fiona Yard – Ward support volunteer
“I just wanted to give something back”
Fiona is a full time teacher. But every other Saturday you’ll find her serving tea, coffee and cake to patients on the inpatient unit of Princess Alice Hospice. Why does she choose to spend precious spare time working with us?
“My Grandad was supported by the Hospice. The nurses came to care for him at home and they were always very helpful to my family who took care of my Grandad. I just felt that I wanted to give something back to them.”
You just need to be calm and caring and have a good sense of humour
“Working on the In-Patient Unit is so different to my job and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I wasn’t left on my own. I shadowed another lady for quite a while before doing the rounds on my own. Can anyone do it? I think you have to have initiative and be able to judge whether it’s ok to go into a room. You need to be calm and take everything in your stride. And it helps if you can make people laugh.”
Your visit can be the little pick-me-up that someone needs
Fiona has found working at the Hospice really rewarding. It’s a place where the smallest thing can make a big difference. So coming along with a cuppa and a friendly smile when someone’s feeling a bit down can really lift their mood. The patients appreciate the fact that, as a volunteer, she has chosen to be there because she cares.
And it’s not just the patients she helps. Often she’s welcome company for visitors when the patient is asleep or unresponsive. She even enjoys interacting with our canine visitors. “I love it when people bring dogs to visit – I’m a huge dog lover and it’s another way that I can connect with the patient and their visitors.”
Everyone can make a difference – so give it a go
“Working at the Hospice has definitely changed my perspective. I think it’s made me more grounded. I really enjoy the work and being part of the Hospice team – it’s like a little family. We support each other and if you ever feel the need to talk, someone will be there to listen.”
“If you have spare time and love working with people, you’ll find working at the Hospice really fulfilling. It’s great to go home knowing that you have lifted someone’s day with just a cup of tea, a slice of cake and a little chat.”
Twaisha Kapoor – Ward volunteer
Like most 17 year olds, Twaisha Kapoor, was hoping for a volunteering opportunity that would be useful and rewarding. In Princess Alice Hospice she found everything she was looking for – and more.
Twaisha is studying for her A-levels and hoping to study medicine. So she was keen to find out first-hand what it’s like to work in a medical environment. After her interview at the Hospice, she was delighted to be offered a role as a volunteer serving tea and coffee to patients on the inpatient unit.
“I like talking to people and making them feel better”
Twaisha really enjoys her time on the IPU. She’s always loved talking to people and volunteering at the Hospice has helped her develop her communication skills. Ward volunteers like Twaisha have the time to talk to patients and she never feels rushed or under pressure. And her age has been a definite plus, “Most patients are quite elderly and I think they like having someone young around.”
Twaisha’s time at the Hospice has made her even more certain that a career in medicine is for her. Inspired by our doctors and nurses, she’s thinking she might also like to specialise in palliative medicine.
“It definitely helped that I had first-hand experience in a care setting”
Competition for places at medical school is fierce. But Twaisha is lucky. She has just been offered a place in London. She believes that volunteering at the Hospice helped a lot. “Princess Alice Hospice is very well respected. The university trusted their opinion – if I was good enough for the Hospice, I was good enough for them.”
“You really feel you’re part of the team”
Doctors and nurses everywhere work in teams. And at the Hospice, Twaisha has seen for herself how important this is – and has loved being part of the team. “Right from the start, everyone was so welcoming. I felt accepted straight away,” she says, “And I got cards from everyone at Christmas!” Would she recommend volunteering at Princess Alice? Definitely. “I find it really rewarding to go there. You’re doing something nice for the community and it doesn’t take much effort.”
Jana Jeyakumar – Consultant
“You get more thank yous than in any other job”
When Jana first qualified as a doctor, she never imagined that one day she’d be working in palliative medicine. But working as a senior house officer in a hospital oncology unit, she found that one of the shining lights was the palliative care team.
“Palliative medicine is different. It’s all about the patient”
Now after eight years working in hospices (three and a half years at Princess Alice Hospice) Jana can’t imagine doing anything else. “I make a real difference here,“ she explains, “because you focus on what people and their families want, rather than the medical agenda. We have a different relationship with our patients and I find that very rewarding.”
Most of Jana’s day is spent outside the Hospice. After a morning meeting with colleagues to discuss her patients, she goes to see them in their homes or care homes. There she is often called upon to help control pain and other symptoms.
Often, she will be called upon to talk to patients about their condition and help them come to terms with their situation. “People can often feel very upset and even angry about what’s happening to them. One great thing about working in a hospice is that we have the luxury of time and resources, so we can give people really good care and support.”
“I’m very lucky to work here”
Another thing Jana really appreciates at Princess Alice Hospice is working in in a large team of highly skilled experts. It’s also a very caring and supportive environment, where people are generous with their time and knowledge. She has learnt a lot from her colleagues and now she is sharing her skills and experience with others.
“It’s not easy but it’s rewarding”
“The people we help are in a difficult, stressful situation – and so are their families. But that’s why the job is so rewarding,“ says Jana. “By helping control someone’s pain or enabling them to keep mobile, you make a huge difference to their quality of life. I know that every day I’m doing something useful – that’s why I love my job.”
Konstantina Chatziargyriou – Quality improvement manager
“We may be the first person a patient of relative speaks to”
The smooth running of our Hospice is down to our amazing clinical administration team. They ensure that our nurses, doctors, social workers and therapists get the support they need to do their jobs. They keep things moving, get things done and provide a vital link between all the different clinical departments at the Hospice.
And they don’t just support our staff – many of our clinical admin staff work directly with patients and families, acting as the first point of contact between them and the Hospice.
“We demonstrate the values of the Hospice in every conversation, letter or email”
What does it take to be an administrator in a Hospice? “You need great admin skills, of course,” says Konstantina. “But you must also be an excellent communicator and be able to show compassion and respect for everyone you come into contact with.”
“Some of the conversations we have can be difficult or upsetting. For example, my team often have to take recently bereaved people through the administrative processes that follow a death. You need to show an enormous amount of empathy and kindness to help people get through it.”
To ensure that there is always someone who can help, Konstantina’s team works on a ‘buddy system’. Individuals learn the skills to step in and help colleagues during busy periods and times of leave and illness.
“We’re lucky to have the chance to make a difficult time a little easier”
What makes working at Princess Alice unlike any other admin job? “The work we do really does make a difference. Whether they’re a doctor or a patient, we’re there to help people at a time when they need it.”
Like everyone else at the Hospice, our clinical admin staff will often go the extra mile. “Last New Year’s Eve, one of our clinical administrators on the inpatient unit was just getting ready to go home,“ Konstantina recalls, “when one of the patients had to be transferred urgently to a London hospital. The patient’s family needed to sort out accommodation in the city. The IPU administrator sat down and searched for hotels within their budget and near to the hospital, so they wouldn’t have to pay for taxis. She didn’t have to do that – it felt natural! People are often surprised at how much we can help them.”