Volunteering is not for everyone but let me tell you, that the benefits are amazing, so please if you have a spare three hours a week, maybe you can consider it?
I had volunteered for a number of years for different charities, before joining The Friends of the Royal Marsden following my treatment seven years ago.
For me, it was a natural step as, I was in a position having decided to stop my events business, as planning weddings was way too stressful. And, I wanted to give back to the place that had saved my life. For the eighteen months I was under the amazing care of the Royal Marsden, it became like home, it was my safe place. Something that a lot of people may feel bizarre to read, but when you are in the Cancer club you will know what I mean. By safe place, it became like my second home and when I was having a wobble, I used to walk through the hospital and all I needed was just one smile or someone engaging with me, and it would make me feel like I could continue my day, and I hope that is what I can do now.
When I had my treatment, everyone smiled and everyone was always welcoming however, I was one of those patients who shunned help when asked so, maybe that’s why I wanted to be involved and I could find that way to touch everyone.
So, in March 2017 I became a volunteer, starting in the Friends shop, then I moved to Meet & Greet, then it was water in outpatients and, then the rest is history as I have covered pretty much all the volunteering roles that the Friends offer. In 2018, I took on the role of the coordinator for Meet & Greet and then in 2019 joined the committee.
The pandemic hit volunteering hard however, and we were really lucky after a couple of months of the country locking down, to be invited back. So, with the help of a team of 13 volunteers, we agreed to come back and offer Meet & Greet support on Wallace Wing and if I say so myself, I think it was a privilege. It was hard at the start, as we were the only friendly face to accompany a patient on their journey, as no visitors were allowed into the hospital for the first six or so months, buts its changing now with a ‘new’ normal.
I personally think that I have grown as an individual for being in the hospital during the pandemic, as I witnessed first hand the staff on the front line. We are a cancer hospital and so it was so important to shield patients from covid and thanks to the PPE we did. It was also when you had to dig deep to reassure a patient who had left their home, come alone and embarking on a journey nobody wants too.
Something a lot of people suffered during the lockdowns was loneliness and, the patients felt that not been able to have a friend in chemo or, someone to sit with them on their first visit, it was so hard to see the frightened patients. However, those who I have spoken to and followed on their journey over the last two years, they all say, that they are grateful to the volunteers and the friendly smiley face, even behind the mask.
Obviously, sadly some of the patients you build a repour with, do not make it and that’s hard, as you build relationships and you would not be human if you didn’t react but, something that I have learnt, especially having worked in CCU (the equivalent of intensive care) is, that you need to leave it in the hospital, not always easy.
Why, am I writing this blog well it is really a call to action. At the Friends of The Royal Marsden in Chelsea we need more volunteers to join the team, so we can continue to give the level of support to the patients on their journey and to the staff, which in 2018 earned us the Queen’s Voluntary Award, basically an MBE for a voluntary organisation.
We are looking for people who are able to commit to three hours a week for a year, obviously with holidays and, I can guarantee that you will reap the rewards I feel, being involved and understand the benefits of giving this time, time which you will never get back. The hospital is opening up again and we hope to be fully back to all the voluntary services we offer within the next few weeks, so, I do hope you will consider it.
Only the other day, I was talking to a friend who is looking to go back to work and, I said why not try volunteering for a year. I appreciate it is not paid work but you will give you a routine, you learn new skills and it will look good on your CV, when you are applying for jobs. Let’s face it, you never know who you will meet and the opportunities that can arise are their if you want them, and also there are so many opportunities within the NHS itself.
Volunteering is giving your time to help and support those who need you, time that you will never get back. Start with three hours a week and then see how you get on; I won’t say how many hours I do because I do it for the patients and I love it. I love to be able to say, I make a difference.
Each year volunteers are recognised for a week in June and this year, I plan to share with you just some of the amazing people I have met who volunteer alongside me.