“It’s the simple things that make a big difference”

Categories: Care.

Tell us more about Hospice Neighbours

The service aims to make living with dying better for people in their own homes.

We know people in the final chapters of their life can be quite isolated and our volunteers go into people’s homes and are a friendly face – they offer compassion and can help out with the small, everyday tasks that can feel overwhelming when you are ill.

Our volunteers go out of their way to make people feel as normal as possible. For example, every week one of our Neighbours will go and swap her patient’s library books – she knows her so well now that she knows what books she would like, and if she’s going on holiday asks someone else to do it. It’s the simple things like that which make a big difference.

Where did the idea come from?

The idea for Hospice Neighbours came from our chief executive Barbara Gale. When she joined the hospice she met a woman who had been looking after her husband. She said the hospice gave great support, but she was quite isolated and needed someone to help with the shopping. Barbara knew there was great potential for our army of volunteers to help.

The hospice team started working on the Hospice Neighbours idea in the autumn of 2010 and we launched in spring 2011 in two areas. It then spread to cover all of West Suffolk and South Norfolk and has just grown to where we are today.

How easy was it to put into action?

When local people heard about Hospice Neighbours and realised what it was, they were keen to get involved. We had an existing volunteer who offered to be our first co-ordinator to start the scheme off.

Our biggest barrier initially was finding patients, so I started phoning them and explaining what Hospice Neighbours could offer. It was clear from their take-up there was a need in the community.

How has the project developed since last year?

In the last year Hospice Neighbours has continued to grow. We’ve gone from ten volunteer co-ordinators to 20 this year, and each co-ordinator looks after nine to ten Hospice Neighbours.

This year we have also managed to get some younger co-ordinators on board, which means they can offer different skills – for example, they are embracing social media.

When we started we had just 14 Hospice Neighbours in two areas and it took two months to get our first patient on board.

We now have 167 Hospice Neighbours volunteers, not including the five volunteers I have supporting me in the office, and have 140 patients that we currently visit in their own homes.

How many people have you reached?

Since we launched four years ago we’ve helped 614 people.

Between April 2013 and April 2014 alone our volunteers spent more than 5,400 hours visiting 321 patients. During those visits 81% of volunteers’ time was spent providing companionship, 7% cent on domestic tasks, including housework and gardening. They also supported patients by helping out with shopping, dog walking and complementary therapies.

The majority of patients – 60% – have cancer, but they could also have MND, diabetes, chronic renal failure, MS, heart disease, epilepsy, pulmonary fibrosis, COPD or dementia.

What did winning the Hospice UK award mean to you and the team?

When I told everyone we had won the Innovation in Volunteering award they were really pleased.

This week, I was able to follow that up with the announcement the service had won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service from Buckingham Palace.

It is lovely to have the awards and the prestige, but at the end of the day we are here to support the patients: that’s what we do and that’s what we want to continue to do.

I do sometimes think “where do we go from here?” My ideal is to have Hospice Neighbours services – or similar – right across the UK. Since we started 14 organisations have approached us to see how the service operates, which is brilliant and is exactly what I want. I want to see it grow – not just for us at St Nicholas Hospice Care but for everyone.

Hospice UK’s annual awards, supported by the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), are presented each year at the hospice charity’s annual conference and recognise innovation and excellence demonstrated by hospices across the UK. Entries for this year’s award will open later this month – register for conference alerts to receive monthly updates on the conference and awards.

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