2017 marks the 40th year of St Columba’s Hospice
As part of our year-long programme of activities to mark four decades since we opened our doors to patients and families, we are publishing staff blogs from lots of members of our staff team at the Hospice.
So far, we have already published blogs from our supportive care team, fundraising team, research team, domestic team and stewards team. Today, we publish a blog from Karen, our volunteer services manager.
How long have you worked at the Hospice?
I’ve been at St Columba’s Hospice as the volunteer services manager for just over two years – I joined in January 2015. I came here from CHAS and before that I worked at the Hospice of St Francis in Hertfordshire. I was in the voluntary sector for more than 10 years before that – so I’ve been involved with volunteers and Hospices for a long time!
Tell us about your role at the Hospice
We often describe volunteer services as ‘HR for volunteers’ – I lead a team of staff and volunteers whose role is to ensure that we involve volunteers in as much as possible across the Hospice, and that we do that well, and safely. As the volunteer services manager I lead on developing a strategy for the involvement of volunteers across everything we do, but we also need good systems, e.g. for recruitment and for induction. We also support members of staff who have volunteers in their teams. At the practical level, we manage about eight of the volunteer rotas within the Hospice, and provide a volunteer transport service principally for those attending day services. I interview all potential Hospice volunteers, which is the best part of my role – to meet new people, put them at their ease, and find out what they have to offer us!
How does your role as volunteer services manager help patients and families?
Our team can be regarded as ‘back office’, but a lot of the work that volunteers do is face-to-face with the people that we support, e.g. on the wards, in day services, and working with outpatients, and our volunteer transport service. I also work with staff behind the scenes, to see how best we can involve volunteers. Some of our volunteers reveal amazing skills when I interview them, so I work with staff to make the best use of those skills. I also know that many of the people that we support recognise that volunteers choose to be alongside them at a difficult time, often because the volunteers have shared the same experience, and they appreciate this gift of time, alongside the support they are receiving from our paid staff.
What would surprise people about your role as volunteer services manager?
The breadth of it – from strategy development to buying new secateurs for our flower team, if you get involved in managing volunteers, you have to be a jack of all trades! Although that can be a challenge in getting everything done, it’s a fantastically rewarding role. Because we have so many volunteers – almost 700 – we have an infinite variety of skills, personalities and motivations, and I love the richness (as well as the challenges!) that this brings to the work of the Hospice.
What is it like working at the Hospice?
For me, I always go back to Cicely Saunders’ original vision: you matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully but to live until you die. I love the simplicity of this vision and the unity of approach it gives everyone working here – paid or voluntary. As colleagues have said in other blogs, because our focus is as much on living well as on dying well, this can be a surprise for those who haven’t been involved with a Hospice before.
What do you like doing in your own time?
I love to sing – I sing in several choirs in Edinburgh, regularly and occasionally, and since moving to Scotland five years ago, have been involved in the setting up of a new group as well. (Luckily my husband also sings, or we wouldn’t see each other!) When we’re not singing, we spend time with friends – we seem to have had a lot of visitors since moving to Scotland! I’m currently training for the Celtic Challenge in May, so I’m busy cycling and swimming – if you’re looking for someone to sponsor, you’ll find me on JustGiving!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We often talk about the amazing work that the Hospice does, and the impact this has on the people we support, but I know that we also change the lives of the volunteers we involve. Many of our volunteers want to give something back and help to deliver the amazing care that they have received in the past, but we also have young volunteers completing Duke of Edinburgh schemes or wanting to get some experience of a medical environment before going on to study medicine, volunteers who want to (re)build their confidence in a workplace environment before finding paid employment, and others who have retired but aren’t ready to give up work just yet. When volunteers leave to go to college or into work, we’re sorry to see them go but we know that in changing the lives of other people, they themselves have been changed.