Dedicated carers and volunteers are greatly valued at St Catherine’s Hospice
The dedication of people who put the needs of others before their own is recognised as part of national Carers’ Week and Volunteers’ Week. Here, St Catherine’s Hospice volunteers tell of the value of giving their time to care for others, and how the charity has helped them give something back to the community.
Hardeep feels valued for supporting a worthy cause
Retired social worker Hardeep Singh can’t stand the thought of staying indoors and watching TV all day. Instead, she takes great pride in doing what she can to support her community, from assisting the elderly, to volunteering as a befriender for house-bound people facing life-shortening illnesses.
The 65-year-old, from Longridge, has been volunteering with the St Catherine’s Hospice family support department since a former colleague from Royal Preston Hospital joined the charity to develop the team 17 years ago.
She says: “I’ve befriended quite a lot of people over the years – sometimes it’s short term and others are more long term, and I can have up to three people to visit each week.
“People ask me why I do it, and it’s because I really enjoy it. You become friends with the people you’re matched with. You share their happy times as well as their distress because of what they’re going through.
“As a social worker, I was used to working with people with dementia, Alzheimer’s and terminal illnesses. You do get attached and you feel something for these people, but you have to be aware of the situation.
“Everyone is affected by death and grief, but you have to be mindful of looking after yourself as well as others, and that’s what the training is for.
“The training provided by St Catherine’s is quite intense because you have to think about everyone’s different needs, but the charity’s family support team are absolutely brilliant and are always on hand to offer advice. They’re very helpful and supportive, and make you feel very appreciated.”
Hardeep, a grandmother of four, became a befriender in 2012 after she retired, and has been with current service-user, 70-year-old George Fisher who is living with progressive supranuclear palsy, for more than a year.
“I spend time with George while his wife goes out, and he’s so pleasant and very jolly,” she says. “Befriending is all about getting to know a person’s interests without invading their privacy.
“George likes to play Connect 4 and he is very good. He’s quite naughty because he knows I always miss the diagonals because I go for the straights; he knows that’s my weakness so he catches me out, and he always has a cheeky smile on his face when he wins!
“It also gives his wife Sandra, who is his carer, time to herself. It’s like a lifeline for her too and she looks forward to my visits just as much as he does.”
Hardeep, who lost her husband 20 years ago to cancer, has always recognised the importance of putting others first.
She explains: “I’m a Sikh by religion and one of the principles of Sikhism is to serve the community and be helpful, so that gives me satisfaction, knowing that I’m doing something which is valued by my faith.
“I enjoy being involved in the community – I escort elderly people to the temple or events whenever I can, and giving something back like that can be very rewarding.
“I still have time for myself, for my family and to work on my garden, but I also like to keep myself busy and use my time for a worthy cause – it’s much better than sitting at home all day watching TV.
“I feel proud of myself; you’ve got to keep positive and do what you can.”
George’s wife and full-time carer Sandra, 69, has had to adapt to looking after her husband of nearly 50 years, whose condition is similar to Parkinson’s and affects his eyesight, mobility and speech.
“I have to do everything for him”, she says. “And I have to go everywhere with him. He used to work for British Airways so we’ve been all over the world together – Australia is our favourite – and I do miss being able to travel like that.
“He was also very sporty and has trophies for golf, football and squash. He was a very fit and active person, and now he can only just about stand up. It’s very difficult for him, especially because he can’t do things like play football with his grandchildren.”
Sandra, who used to work on the production line for McVitte’s, adds: “Nowadays we like to sit in the garden together and occasionally we’ll get a taxi into town to get George out a bit. I also walk him round the parks near our house in his wheelchair.
“He’s still interested in sports and enjoys watching the golf, tennis and football, and he’s also a fan of Emmerdale.”
The couple, who live in Walton Park near Lostock Hall, learnt about the St Catherine’s befriending service when George started attending day therapy sessions at the hospice, which also offered Sandra respite and allowed him to take part in activities such as playing games, potting plants, baking, and making greetings cards.
“Hardeep is lovely and they get on really well,” Sandra adds. “George can’t show much emotion, but his face lights up when he sees her.
“It gives me the opportunity to go out for three hours – I usually go into town and do a bit of shopping and have a coffee. It’s nice to have that time by myself. It’s important for both of us to have that space and do something a bit different each week.”
Sandra progressed from carer to befriender
Great-grandmother Sandra Barber didn’t class herself as a ‘carer’ when she looked after her late partner Bob Ponting. They still enjoyed spending time together and doing word puzzles, even though he was bed-bound after being diagnosed with skin cancer, melanoma.
But she did appreciate the support the couple received after finding out about the St Catherine’s Hospice befriending service, which gave Bob someone new to confide in each week, and offered Sandra some free time to herself.
Sandra is still grateful for the support they received from the charity during that difficult time, and enjoys giving her time as a volunteer at its monthly carers’ drop-in service and as a befriender in the community, after experiencing herself what a difference it can make.
Sandra, age 76, from Astley Village, Chorley, says: “I only really regarded myself as Bob’s carer in the last few weeks when he was bed-ridden, although for the last few years of his life he couldn’t go out without me.
“It was only when he was referred to the hospice’s inpatient unit that we learnt of the support the charity can give to people in our position.
“There was the befriending service for Bob and the family support facilities for me.
“They offer help even after a loved-one has died, through the bereavement service as well as the carers’ drop-in sessions, which are social sessions providing everything from gong therapy and thai chi, to arts and crafts.
“It’s nice to be with people who understand what you’ve been through.”
Bob was able to return home after spending time at the Lostock Hall hospice in 2013, and died a few weeks later, aged 79.
Now, Sandra says that offering her time and giving something back to the charity by volunteering for its befriending service and carers’ drop-in gives her ‘purpose’ and something to look forward to.
“Bob had a befriender after finding out about it through St Catherine’s, and it was wonderful because it was a change of company for him, and it gave me the freedom to visit family,” she explains.
“We had a lot of confidence in the hospice in terms of who they sent round, and they match people up perfectly so they have shared interests and get on well.
“After Bob died, I attended the bereavement therapy group and decided I wanted to do something to help, so I trained as a befriender. I couldn’t give money, but I could give my time, and it seemed a good opportunity because we’d made use of a befriender ourselves.”
Sandra, who is also kept busy with her seven grandchildren and working on her large garden, offers her time one afternoon a week for around two to three hours, and over the past couple of years has been matched up with six people.
“I love it,” she says. “I know I’m doing good, which is nice, but it’s also such a pleasure meeting new people and they’re always so pleased to see you. I always have a lovely time.
“We chat, play games like dominoes, look through photographs and do puzzles together.
“It’s good company for me too, and it gives me purpose. I’ve got my own family commitments, so you’ve got to find a balance, but I really do enjoy it.”
She adds: “I also like that I’m keeping a connection with St Catherine’s. I go there and can talk about Bob, and it’s a real comfort.
“The hospice has been a tremendous support from the start through the befriending service and bereavement therapy group, so it’s nice to be able to give something back and volunteer for the charity.”
Could you give your time as a befriender?
St Catherine’s Hospice’s family support team is appealing for more volunteer befrienders to give their time for a worthy cause.
Cheryl Scott, the charity’s family support manager, says: “Our befriending service provides a lifeline to many people affected by life-shortening illnesses, by providing a trained volunteer to spend time with them as required.
“It began in 2011, funded by a Lancashire County Council grant, and was initially aimed at patients to allow a carer to take a break from their caring role, allowing them time to carry out daily tasks such as visiting the dentist, hairdressers or the shops, or simply to take some important time out for themselves and visit friends.
“The service has extended since its launch and now also works with people with a life-shortening condition who are living alone, as well as those who are not already known to the hospice.
“Our befrienders visit for up to four hours a week providing companionship, the chance to take part in hobbies and other social activities, and offer a friendly face to chat to. More recently they have also been accompanying people when going out shopping and to hospital appointments.
“The family support team provides a comprehensive training programme for all befrienders, and we are extremely grateful to volunteers like Hardeep and Sandra for their time and commitment, and are pleased they find the experience rewarding and fulfilling.”
– If you are interested in giving your time as a volunteer befriender, or if you could benefit from the support of the service, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01772 629171.
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