3 June 2021
We’re always aware of the incredible worth of all our dedicated volunteers, who devote their time and skills to our trust. This has never been truer than during the past year, when patients and staff have faced unprecedented challenges because of the pandemic.
This Volunteers’ Week, and every week, we give our heartfelt thanks to all the individuals who make a positive difference to the experiences of our patients and the work of our hospitals, and to the Royal Free Charity for their tireless and efficient work co-ordinating volunteers and supporting our trust.
Meet some of the amazing volunteers.
“Laughing our way through lockdown” became the mission statement for Suzie Simons and her team of volunteers who run online activities and events for visually impaired people.
Three years ago, Suzie launched Eye Matter, a support group for visually impaired patients at Edgware Community Hospital. When lockdown began, she realised there would be even more of a need to boost feelings of confidence, empowerment and community among the group.
She learned how to use Zoom and with the help of more volunteers, offers a rich and varied online programme that includes meditation, body conditioning, aerobics for memory, book clubs, talent contests, cookery and quizzes.
Patients from Royal Free Hospital, Barnet Hospital and Edgware Community Hospital are among more than 100 participants who have had their spirits lifted by the Eye Matter groups. “I don’t know what I would have done without it”, said one. “So supportive and fun” said a different member. Another commented “It feels like family”.
Suzie, who explains that she has been blind for 16 years, has ambitious plans to maintain and expand on activities and support for visually impaired patients as lockdown lifts.
“We are about fun activities, but it is not just fun, it’s important that people with visual impairment get together to share our practical and emotional skills and techniques,” she says.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vin’s earliest voluntary work for the Royal Free Hospital began in the 1960s when he was just eight years old. He grew up in Belsize Park, next door to a nurse. He describes her as “a lovely woman” and he was always happy to help her carry her bags to work.
In 2013 he retired from a long career in IT, which began with giant mainframe computers that took up entire rooms, and also included lecturing work. He had been used to seeing scores of people every day, and he missed the contact, but he joined a gym and kept himself busy. But within about five years, he says “I had finished my DIY list and decided I needed to do something more”.
Vin began volunteering at Royal Free London. “It was heaven sent, and the organisers are marvellous.” he says. After his training, he gave directions to patients and visitors, and helped out in the discharge lounge collecting medication and making drinks for patients. When the blood test room introduced an appointment system, he supported patients with signing in and explaining how to the system worked.
“Then came the pandemic,” he continues. “For the first couple of months it was really hard – my routine disappeared – no gym, no volunteering.”
Vin kept in touch with other volunteers and staff at the trust, and in the autumn last year he was asked to help with a project arranging video call appointments for clinics. Because of his experience in IT, he was able to support patients with mastering the technology before their appointments. He also trained other volunteers at Barnet Hospital, Chase Farm Hospital and Royal Free Hospital to help patients adapt to video appointments.
He is keen to carry on with this work and is also looking forward to returning to the hospitals to interact face-to-face with people.
After recovering from surgery at the Royal Free Hospital, Margaret Voyce joined the trust’s team of volunteers in 2015. She says: “I was looked after very well and I decided I would like to give something back.”
Since then, Margaret has given two days a week of her time, taking the shop trolley to patients, serving lunches and teas on wards, and helping run the book service.
When a knitting group was launched at the hospital, Margaret volunteered to join. She and other accomplished knitters made items that were sold for the benefit of the trust charity, along with baby hats and other craftwork that are used for educational or emotional support for patients.
When lockdown meant she could not go into the hospital, Margaret carried on knitting at home. Dr Victoria Dublon, consultant paediatrician, asked the group to make face masks for toys on children’s wards, and Margaret produced more than 100 of these on her sewing machine. “My flat was like a factory” she says.
Margaret says she was glad to be occupied during lockdown and that she was still able to help the trust. “I really missed coming into the hospital. It’s so lovely to be back on the wards,” she adds.
Elaine Harris says she had a wonderful career working at the Royal Free Hospital for 20 years. She was an administrator in the HIV and AIDS medical research school, from the time it was established.
After opting for early retirement a decade ago, she immediately returned to the trust as a volunteer, initially on the wards, where she served lunches and coffee, and enjoyed interacting with patients.
When the hospital introduced check-in kiosks for out-patient appointments a few years ago, Elaine was asked to volunteer in the reception area, helping people to use them. She says this role quickly grew into offering directions, guidance and advice.
“We were the first people anyone entering the hospital saw. Because we are standing and mobile we can walk with people if they need help, and we can listen and talk to them,” she says. Sometimes people may be confused about instructions, such as which diagnostic test they should attend first, and for those whose first language is not English, the volunteers’ assistance can be even more helpful.”
During the pandemic, the number of out-patient appointments was drastically reduced. Elaine was one of the first to return to her post, and is now back in reception two days a week.
“It was great to come back,” she says. “I love what I do. When people come in and we say ‘Good morning, can I help you?’ you often see them visibly relax. It makes such a difference.”
Summer volunteer programme for young people
As part of the celebrations for Volunteers’ Week, the Royal Free Charity is inviting applications for its summer volunteer programme for young people.
Open for applications now, the summer programme aims to give young people aged between 16 and 23 the opportunity to gain experience in a healthcare setting at either the Royal Free Hospital or Barnet Hospital.
Full details – plus information on how to apply- can be found on the Royal free Charity website.