Volunteering - what’s it all about?

Volunteers Mobeen Farooq, Eric Robinson and Beth Cotes (L-R)The volunteers at our three hospitals are a familiar sight, but how much do you really know about what they do?

“I like to say that I’ve got the most diverse workforce in the trust!” says Elaine Donnellon, voluntary services manager at the Royal Free Hospital, whose staff range in age from 17 to 93 years old and come from a staggering array of backgrounds.

“We have 600 volunteers working across all of the trust’s sites; they can be found supporting trust staff and working to improve our patients’ experience every single day of the week and are a huge part of making the trust what it is. Many volunteers are familiar faces to staff and patients as they have offered a service to the trust for 40 years now – our longest serving volunteer has worked at the Royal Free for an admirable 29 years!”

Getting started

Each week the Royal Free London receives up to 100 enquiries from people interested in volunteering. Each person is assessed and the trust asks that volunteers commit to a set number of hours per week and for a set duration before they are taken on. Volunteering should be taken as seriously as paid work and given the same commitment.

Volunteering also strengthens local communities, so the trust prioritises enquiries from local or neighbouring boroughs. This way we are able to contribute towards positive and gainful activities by providing pathways, through volunteering, to education, employment and training in the local community. Volunteers must be prepared to muck-in and help out where needed, but the role they carry out is clearly defined, including what they can and can’t do while on the job.

Volunteer Elaine Harris

Giving back

There are huge benefits to the trust from having volunteers giving their time to assist staff and patients; up to 50 requests are submitted each day from trust staff looking for a volunteer’s assistance.

Crucially, our volunteers also value the experience they have working here. Many of our volunteers are retired and a quarter are former patients who have really strong motives for being here. They often feel indebted to the hospital and want to give something back. We also have many volunteers who have come to volunteer with us because they may have recovered here or lost relatives and are grateful to the care that they had received here.

It is the diversity of trust volunteers which makes the service what it is. To volunteer you can have little or no work experience, be looking to develop your skills or get a real insight into what it would be like to work in a hospital – or you can be highly trained, like the Macmillan information centre volunteers.

Most of the volunteers at Barnet Hospital and Chase Farm Hospital over the past year have been 18-35 years of age and are generally hoping to study to become doctors, nurses or midwives. 

Playing the part

Ultimately the role of the volunteers is to support trust staff and improve patient experience, but there are many, sometimes surprising, ways in which volunteers do this. The trust has 57 different roles currently being performed by volunteers, 15 priority roles are advertised, but most are filled by people who come directly to us. We receive a lot of calls from people who want to offer their own unique services, for example a dance tutor approached the trust wanting to teach dance to staff, someone else offered to teach English to non-english speakers and an origami expert recently got in touch wanting to teach origami to paediatric in-patients!

The trust has a volunteer-run patient relation action group and volunteers give talks in the community. We have also formed affiliations with charities Bliss, to provide volunteers to the Starlight Neonatal Unit, and Cherry Lodge Cancer Care for volunteers in our Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre.

There is a varied range of roles volunteers can do and that, combined with the diversity of the volunteers themselves, makes it a unique service and something that we are very proud of. Meet some of our volunteers.

If you would like to volunteer at Barnet Hospital or Chase Farm Hospital, please contact Beverley Smith on beverely.smith28@nhs.net or 020 8216 4449 (Barnet Hospital) or 020 8375 1349 (Chase Farm Hospital. If you would like to volunteer at the Royal Free Hospital, please contact Elaine Donnellon on elaine.donnellon@nhs.net or 020 7830 2306.

Top photo: Volunteers Mobeen Farooq, Eric Robinson and Beth Cotes (L-R).
Bottom photo: Volunteer Elaine Harris.