St Mary’s Hospice community neighbours service – a friendly face, a helping hand

Categories: Community Engagement.

In 2013 St Mary’s Hospice set out to create a sustainable network of volunteers to support people in their neighbourhood who were living with life-shortening conditions.

The volunteers would visit people in their own homes, offering companionship and practical help if needed; supporting and enhancing the quality of life of those living with life-shortening conditions.

Getting started

St Mary’s was awarded funding by our local clinical commissioning group in early 2013, initially for 18 months, to launch a new service called ‘hospice neighbours’ in two specific geographical locations within the hospice’s catchment area.

A part-time project manager was recruited in July 2013 and the first few months were spent on defining the service, branding, publicising and creating clear systems for both volunteers to sign up and for stakeholders to refer patients/clients to the service.

To get off to a quick start, our first volunteer neighbours were recruited from people already volunteering for the hospice. All were DBS checked and had a good knowledge of our services – ideal ambassadors to develop a new service.

At the start, training mainly covered managing risk as a lone worker and expectations from clients. We also offered training in manual handling of people and food hygiene.

Our first clients were identified from patients who were already engaged with the hospice – some attended day services or our friendship and support groups.

to these patients we sold the service as a non-medical person who could visit once a week to offer friendship and help with practical things like shopping. It starts as quite a formal arrangement then inevitably evolves into a more relaxed and flexible relationship.

Our new volunteer neighbours started visiting clients in November 2013; by January 2014 we had three clients and eight volunteers.

Growing the project

The next stage was to grow the project over the next 12 months. Networking with possible referring agencies – Macmillan nurses, GP surgeries, Age UK, carers associations, specialist nurses – went hand in hand with recruiting and training more volunteers.

Being a community neighbour was a very different kind of volunteering role at the hospice and it attracted people who really wanted to help out in their local community. Many of the volunteers have had some experience of caring for a loved one at the end of life and have been in receipt of hospice services.

In our first 18 months we managed to recruit 25 volunteers and we were actively visiting 15 patients. We supported 26 patients in total through this period.

From pilot to core service

In December 2014 we came to the end of our CCG funding but were fortunate to be awarded a grant from St James Place Foundation, through Hospice UK, to be able to expand across our whole catchment area and develop the small pilot project into a bigger service.

The community neighbours service has doubled in size in this last year; we now have 36 volunteers visiting 34 people. We have visited and supported nearly 60 individuals and their families since the outset.

The volunteers are a committed and reliable team with only a few having left. Many have helped in additional areas and been a valuable asset to the hospice.

As the service has grown, the way we work has developed to reflect the larger area and the variety of referrals we receive.

For example, we are a lot more specific about the offer and ask the client if they think they will benefit from the service. With some referrals we offer the service for a set period of time, and for a specific reason, and then review the need at the end of this period.

Some neighbours visit more than one client; some just visit once a fortnight but telephone as well.

We work in a number of locations so training and meetings with volunteers take place near to where they live. We also ensure that training and information is ongoing and we had a team day recently to share experiences.

Another outcome of the project is that it has led to increased networking with third sector organisations.

The future

After 30 months the service is growing steadily. We are looking for further funding, as with any initiative, but the service has become a strong element in our provision to the community. It allows the hospice to offer a service early in the end of life care pathway, introducing more people to our care.

As a service we are continually asking for feedback and a volunteer phones people to check how things are going and if they are happy with the service. We ask the same specific questions to our clients to try to get a picture of how they are benefiting from the service.

Clients’ comments include: “I look forward to the visits; it raises my spirits as I am very lonely” and “It gives a purpose to my day.”

The community neighbours have also been asked for their views; many agree that is it a “worthwhile activity” and “a good idea.”

For further information, you can contact Anne Atkinson on 01229 580305 or by email

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