The new project is an extension of the hospice’s successful Community Companions scheme, which sees trained volunteers offer social and practical support to patients and carers at home.
The ManBus idea was developed by the hospice’s voluntary services manager Sophie Rantzau in order to specifically reach out to men who are living with advanced illness and who would prefer a day out in a group, rather than one to one visits in the home.
“I have read several articles recently highlighting how men with advanced illness can become socially isolated and may shy away from one to one befriending, and how a group could seem less daunting,” explained Sophie.
“The key purpose of the ManBus is to empower people to adapt to their new state of being with dignity and to maintain a strong sense of who they are and what is important to them.”
Outing take place once a month, and involve trained male volunteers from the hospice taking out groups of up to six in the St Barnabas minibus.
To enable the project to get started, two volunteers, Edward and Robert, undertook Community Companion training and Minibus Driving Awareness training respectively.
Edward explained: “I was a volunteer driver for the day hospice and was looking for a new role and challenge.
“I jumped at the chance to be part of the ManBus pilot project. This is a great way for me to get involved with some volunteer work that enables me to use my skills.”
Last month the ManBus visited Shoreham Airport, where the group watched the planes and had lunch in the airport café.
Robert said: “I enjoyed the outing and the time to chat and hear about peoples’ life experiences.”
The May ManBus outing is to Tangmere Air Museum and in June they are visiting Arundel. Other suggestions for outings range from going to the pub to visiting a stately home.
One patient who went on an earlier ManBus outing for coffee at the World’s End pub in Patching, commented: “I am new to the area and really enjoyed the company.”
The hospice’s Community Companions initiative has supported over 300 people living with an advanced illness since its launch in 2012. There are currently 55 patients signed up to the programme.
Community companions are trained volunteers who offer social and practical support to patients and carers. They may visit a patient at home for a couple of hours to have tea and chat, enabling their carer to take some time out.
Some patients may be more isolated as they don’t have a live-in carer, in which case the visit from their companion is a much welcomed chance to socialise. Companions often take patients out of the house to visit a tea room or the shops.
Sophie comments: “You might ask, why introduce a ManBus when Community Companions appear to be meeting patients’ needs so well already?
“There are two main points; our female patients have very much embraced community companions and express how much they enjoy sitting and chatting to their community companion.
“We have had many requests from male patients wanting to be matched to a male community companion and, at times, this can result in them waiting some time for a companion. Additionally, while we are very fortunate to have many volunteers, only 22% of our volunteers are men. And so the ManBus was started.
“The challenges will be for us to find ways of reaching out to isolated men and understanding the barriers that may prevent men from utilising this social activity but we are delighted with the initial response we have received and look forward to building on this.”