The hospice movement was largely moribund until the 1970s but since then it has become a part of local life and today hospice volunteering is a major part of the social economy of the UK.
The Value Of Hospice VolunteersWhile figures vary, there is broad agreement that more than 100,000 people volunteer at hospices across the UK every year. Their voluntary contributions are vital to the work that hospices do. Umbrella organisation Help the Hospices conducted a survey in 2006 which estimated that the financial value of these volunteers to the hospice economy was in the region of £112 million – if hospices had to pay for those services, their costs would rise by nearly 25%.
In a 2011 survey by the Centre For Health Services Studies department at the University of Kent 79% of hospice users felt that there were always enough staff and volunteers around to meet their needs, proving that the role of volunteers is essential to the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of those who require hospice care, whether as residents or day visitors.
What Is A Hospice Volunteer?While many people think that hospice volunteers always work directly with patients, the roles available are varied and wide-ranging. Volunteers may spend time with patients or with the families of patients, may work as administrators, as teachers and therapists or may just help to raise funds and maintain the facilities. This list gives some idea of the scope of voluntary work available:
- Drivers bring patients to and from day care facilities
- Receptionists greet visitors and patients and help them move around the building
- Catering volunteers may cook, or serve meals and refreshments
- Therapists may volunteer their hairdressing, manicure, massage or other expert services
- End of life volunteers are trained in bereavement support and counselling to help families plan for the inevitable
- Maintenance volunteers may work in the gardens or on the fabric of the building or may just assist in cleaning rooms and keeping the place looking nice by arranging flowers
- Event volunteers may organise classes or activities for people living at the hospice
- Fundraisers may enter sponsorship events, organise auctions or fun days or just sell raffle tickets
- Shop volunteers may run a charity shop at the hospice or outside it, selling items to raise funds for the hospice itself.
And this list is by no means exhaustive. As government cuts bite, and local authorities scale back their funding, every hospice is seeking out new ways to cut costs and involve local people more in the running of local activities. Above all, hospices now try to involve residents as volunteers and contributors to the overall wellbeing of the hospice, as those who use the services are best placed to know what is needed.
How Do I Volunteer?The hospice movement is not homogeneous – each hospice has its own specialist role and ethos. Because many hospice founders had strong religious or spiritual principles, it’s important to ensure you can fit in with the prevailing ‘spirit’ of a hospice and so visiting before you make a commitment is vital.
If you are worried about your ability to cope with emotional situations, you may wish to start by offering your services behind the scenes, until you become confident that you can deal calmly and sensitively with hospice users, and their families. Tasks in the administrative line, such as word processing, filing, sending out funding requests, counting and banking monies received from shop and catering sales etc are all voluntary roles that can ease somebody into hospice life more generally.
Volunteering to work with patients may mean being assigned to one individual or working with whoever is around on the day: helping with meals, playing games and quizzes, chatting, playing cards or assisting with craft projects are all typical activities.
Unusual voluntary roles include bringing in therapy dogs and cats to spend time with residents – this requires training and certification but is a very rewarding and sought after activity that many consider if they have a calm and loving pet.
Volunteer FundraisingFor those who cannot commit to attend a hospice on a regular basis, fundraising can be a great way to make a contribution to the continuing success of a local hospice. Many hospices run large annual raffles for which they require ticket sellers and this can be a way to ease into the complexities of charitable funding.
If you are sporty, you may like to run, cycle or swim an event for your local hospice. Marathon runners, triathletes and others often raise funds through their sporting prowess and may then be invited into the hospice to give a short talk to the residents or day care users about the event they took part in. This is a fantastic way to engage with a hospice and can bring excitement and a sense of engagement to both athlete and hospice users.