Meg, a 77-year-old retired counsellor, is a volunteer at Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre The Chantry in Ipswich, where she is a befriender for several of the residents, each of whom has been impacted by a neurological condition. Here she talks about the different kinds of support she gives patients.
For many years, Meg worked at the mental health charity MIND, where she was instrumental in setting up the East Suffolk MIND network, offering counselling services to local GP practices. After retiring she began volunteering for them, and she is also training as an end of life “doula”, a person who accompanies people in the final stages of their life. This is all in addition to her role at The Chantry, where she’s been volunteering for the last 18 months.
Meg had been retired for quite some time when she felt the need to get back out into the community. Then a bus ride into town one day led her to joining the charity. “I saw a sign to Sue Ryder, The Chantry, and it just struck me that with my experience in mental health counselling, perhaps I could help out in some way.”
The Chantry is one of four Sue Ryder neurological centres in the UK offering specialist care and rehabilitation to people with complex needs. Many of the patients will have suffered a brain or spinal injury through an accident, stroke, or degenerative condition such as Motor Neurone Disease or Parkinson’s Disease. The centre also offers day services and helpline advice to dementia sufferers and their families.
Volunteers like Meg are invaluable to the centre. The Chantry team works to full capacity at all times, and whether it’s somebody helping out with reception duties, with activities for residents or as a general handyperson, the extra help provided by volunteers is always much appreciated by residents, relatives and staff.
At the moment Meg divides her time between three residents: John*, Gerald and Frances, each of whom receive different kinds of help and attention from her.
“Gerald can be up and down emotionally and he likes to let off steam occasionally, so I’m a great sounding board! Frances, on the other hand, has resided here for many years, is easy-going and just likes to have a nostalgic chat over a cup of tea sometimes.”
When Meg first met John, he found it difficult to engage with people emotionally. “When I would ask him a question such as “Would you like me to read to you?” he would give me a very short and monotone response such as “if you like”. One day I decided to offer him a hand massage, since with no family or other visitors, he rarely experienced human touch.
“John gave me his stock response: “if you like”. But during the massage he began to close his eyes. and when I’d finished I was astounded at his animated response: “You made me go to sleep!” This was a real breakthrough in John’s emotionally reserved world and I felt privileged to have made a connection. John and I are friends now and when I come to visit, he offers me his hand without me asking.”
The Chantry’s Director, Jo Marshall, applauds the work of the centre’s volunteers. “We have a small group of very hard-working and generous individuals who we regularly count on for their time and assistance” she says. “Between them they have a range of valuable skills which make a positive impact on the residents and staff here at The Chantry.
“It’s important that volunteers like Meg are valued and looked after well as they really do make a difference.”
For more information visit Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre The Chantry
*Residents’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.