Working collaboratively to deliver training for hospice volunteers

Categories: Education.

The main objective of the South London Hospice Education Collaborative (SLHEC) is to improve the care of children, adults and their families through dissemination and delivery of education, training and good practice.

A volunteer training programme (funded by Health Education South London) is just one of the projects SLHEC is currently working on.

This project has involved developing a standardised model of training for people who are volunteering in patient/client facing roles in the hospice sector, with a view to making this available to other local health and social care organisations.

Development of the training programme

By mapping existing volunteer training programmes, we identified that all hospices in south London offered volunteer training, but that the length and content varied. It was also recognised that many hospice volunteers had worked for many years without any training updates.

To develop, deliver and evaluate a new standardised training programme, a steering group was set up. Following the mapping exercise, the steering group developed the training programme for the pilot.

The training covers ten topics, delivered over 14 hours, including:

  • introduction to the hospice
  • customer care
  • impact of serious illness and loss
  • support mechanisms/processes
  • mandatory training (health and safety, infection control, manual handling etc)
  • equality and diversity
  • safeguarding
  • confidentiality and data protection and boundaries
  • responding to complaints/feedback, including difficult conversations
  • summary and de-briefing, including time for questions.

Each topic has associated learning objectives and a training pack. The training packs consist of teaching resources from all the hospices. This ensures that the best practice from each hospice is shared and that duplication is minimised. It was agreed that the training pack would be a resource rather than a mandatory teaching aid.

Delivery of the training

During the pilot year, 96 volunteers were trained, with a further 181 completing the training during the second year of the project.

Each hospice decided the time tabling of sessions to suit organisational needs and resources. Some delivered the training over two full days, some over four half days, and some at weekends.

Each hospice contributed their training resources, such as role plays, quizzes and teaching plans, and all training resources were available to all the hospices.


For most hospices, recruitment to the training courses was the main challenge. New volunteers who were planning to volunteer for a few hours could not always commit to two full days training. Some existing volunteers were reluctant to attend two days of training. 

The training programme included new topics for some trainers, but the shared resources and contacts through the steering group supported the delivery of these new topics. The sharing of resources also enabled trainers to extend their use of a range of teaching methods, such as quizzes, role plays and scenarios.


A survey was used to evaluate the views of the volunteers and trainers in the pilot. Volunteers were asked to assess how well the training had covered the stated learning objectives, while trainers were asked about changes to their volunteer training, the use of shared resources and the impact of the training.

This evaluation found that all topics met the set objectives and were relevant to practice. It was particularly encouraging to see that even existing volunteers, who had been reluctant to attend, found the training valuable.

All hospices had changed their training in at least one aspect, with five out of the sic making use of the shared resources.

The evaluation and further discussion within the steering group identified wider implications for the training programme.

New topics were introduced to the training by some hospices. For example, one children’s hospice delivered loss and grief training to volunteers working directly with the children, but now delivers it to volunteers in other supporting roles.

The session on equality and diversity was new to some staff who had been working in the hospices for many years. For some hospices data protection and confidentiality was covered in more depth.

Some hospices reported that the volunteer training had impacted on their staff induction programme.

Induction is an ideal opportunity to give new fundraisers and non-clinical staff insight into the importance of communication, safeguarding, support strategies, regulation compliance as well as coping with death and bereavement.

Often fundraisers or shop staff may be faced with a grieving relative who see them as an extension of the “hospice” staff, so it is important that new staff know how to respond, cope and signpost if relatives do open up. Smaller hospices, in particular, had or were planning to deliver some sessions jointly with paid staff.

Volunteer managers noted that there was a general increase in confidence and sense of belonging among the volunteers. Some of the volunteers who had previously had initial induction training but who took up this opportunity for a more in depth induction did comment that this course made them feel part of the whole for the first time.

The evaluation by an external evaluator in 2015-16 included the impact of the training over a longer time period and the views of the patients/carers. The full report will be available in September 2016.

Plans for the future

This is the first time the hospices are collaborating to deliver a standardised programme for volunteers. The steering group will continue their work on new projects when this project is completed.

Possibilities for new projects include guidelines on mandatory training updates, managing volunteers, developing new roles for volunteers, dementia training and offering the programme to other (non hospice) organisations working in health and social care. 

*Kate Heaps is chief executive at Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice, Berit Moback is project manager for South London Hospice Education Collaborative, Isobel Bremner is clinical volunteer development and Candle Project lead at St Christopher’s Hospice, Zoe Byrne is head of volunteer development at Princess Alice Hospice, Lynne Clarke is head of voluntary services at Demelza, Melanie Hill  is head of volunteer development at Shooting Star Chase Children’s Hospice Care, Vanessa Hill is volunteers’ manager at Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice, Ginny Toubal is volunteer services coordinator at Saint Raphael’s Hospice, and Tricia Wilcocks is head of development and quality at ellenor.

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