Veronica – vaccination volunteer and bereavement services volunteer, Royal Free Hospital
Veronica first joined our team of volunteers as part of the Hampstead Gown Factory project last summer, helping in the cutting room to make PPE for the hospitals. Since retiring at the end of last year, she has continued as a volunteer with the charity in other roles– while also volunteering with FEAST, a charity which makes meals for those in poverty! Veronica now volunteers for at least one session a week at the vaccination centre at the Rec Club as well as two sessions a week at the bereavement office at the Royal Free Hospital, either helping to answer the phones and explaining to families how to register a death or leading a new project to send condolence cards to families.
Here, Veronica shares her experiences of volunteering with us in her many roles:
I have always done a lot of volunteering over the years, partly through the City investment bank where I used to run the corporate social responsibility programme and was involved in East London and Camden schools but also at the Olympics, which was fantastic. When the pandemic happened, I was furloughed from my charity job, hated being stuck at home and wanted to help, so when a friend suggested the gown factory project, I signed up and cut endless pieces of fabric for the PPE we were making – it was great fun, very well organised and I enjoyed it hugely.
At the vaccination centre, I volunteer as a marshal or on the reception desk and it’s great to feel helpful and part of the team. It was then decided to invite volunteers back into other areas of the hospital, including the wards and the bereavement office and although I wasn’t sure about the latter, I decided to give it a go.
The bereavement service is an unusual service which aims to build better links with families who have been bereaved. We send a card the week after the person dies – which is the bit I do – and a few weeks later a member of staff contacts the family again to offer further support. I feel part of the team even though I am only there twice a week. People have been very helpful and nice to me.
What I get out of it is feeling that I’m doing something useful and valuable and being able to meet and talk to other people – and getting out of the house!
Sue - ward volunteer, Barnet Hospital
Sue is a long-standing volunteer and has returned to the wards at Barnet Hospital twice a week as a dementia companion and a virtual visiting volunteer. She helps patients with dementia by providing companionship, cups of tea and raising the mood on the wards with music and pampering . She also helps patients to contact their loved ones via video calls on the ward’s iPad. Here, she shares her experience on returning as a volunteer for these specific roles:
I walked into the main entrance of Barnet Hospital wearing my purple uniform to find my fellow meet and greet volunteers replaced by gentlemen clad in high-vis vests, smiling and handing out masks and checking paperwork. My route to the ward took me past the charity office, which was all in darkness with the security grill down. It did feel a little lonely, where was lovely Louise, delectable Diana, and zany Zoe? Then a nurse walked by and said cheerily, “Oh good, are the volunteers back? That’s great.”
So, with my spirits lifted I proceeded to Larch Ward where I got a wonderful greeting from Ward Clerk, Dillon and Doris, the dementia facilitator, who I was there to help. Whoosh, I was back and fully engaged! It was so wonderful to talk and listen to patients and staff.
We put on some Frank Sinatra songs in one bay and when an elderly lady who was quite ill started singing along, it really was a moment to remember. Doris and I painted fingernails, combed hair and gave out cups of tea.
I came away after that day full of energy, so uplifted and full of admiration for all the hospital staff.
Later that week I was back on the wards as a virtual visitor, trying to help connect patients and their families via phone or video call. It was so heart-warming, very moving and it left me feeling full of joy – there were many poignant moments. It was challenging to get my head round the technology of Zoom and FaceTime on the iPad, but practise makes perfect, and I’m getting more confident with each visit.
I was very aware of the importance of hygiene at all times. And realised how hot it gets wearing a mask, visor, and full scrubs. How nurses and doctors have coped with it day after day, month after month on long shifts, I do not know. Well, I bow to them all and thank you for allowing us back in to help.
Arya - Hampstead Gown Factory Volunteer 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Royal Free Charity teamed up with WAC Arts centre in the Old Town Hall in Belsize Park to host a team of more than 570 volunteers sewing surgical gowns for the staff at the Royal Free and Barnet hospitals. The project, named the Hampstead Gown Factory, finished on 30th August 2020. The volunteers in the project cut, sewed, folded and packed an amazing 50,000 surgical gowns for staff over the space of just five months.
Arya was due to begin volunteering for the Royal Free Charity as part of the GP Volunteering Programme, but due to the pandemic her volunteering had to be suspended. Keen to continue volunteering in some capacity, Arya signed up to volunteer in a new way at the Hampstead Gown Factory.
Arya has shared some reflections on her time volunteering with us...
I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to volunteer this summer at WAC, making PPE for the Royal Free Hospital. Living through the unusual circumstances that 2020 has brought upon us - 7-weeks of lockdown, quarantine birthdays and online school, I can honestly say that being able to get out the house and do something meaningful has been really appreciated.
During lockdown I found myself feeling fairly useless, as there wasn’t much I could do and I wanted to help out. While I did do some grocery shopping for my elderly neighbours who were shielding, it was only infrequently. I enjoy voluntary work and this made the fact that the GP programme was postponed very disappointing.
This summer I have been able to develop plenty of new skills such as sewing and pattern cutting, as well as meet a variety of new people. Even though I wasn’t the most confident seamstress and often accidentally jammed my machine, people were always happy to take the time to teach me the basics and help out.
Volunteering at the Hampstead Gown Factory really highlighted the importance of community spirit and made clear to me how willing people are to support the NHS. Whether it was through the homemade cakes on the break table or how friendly and chatty everyone was, I felt very welcome and really enjoyed my time volunteering.
Rashmi Malde - Barnet Hospital COVID-19 Response Volunteer
Barnet Hospital has received a large number of generous donations during these challenging times. Rashmi is one of the volunteers who have been stepping up to help the hospital by sorting the kind donations and making sure they are distributed to all of the staff. She has been volunteering at Barnet Hospital for two years and decided to continue volunteering through the COVID-19 pandemic in this new role.
Rashmi has shared some experiences and thoughts with us…
What do you do in your new COVID-19 Response role?
My day to day activity involves helping to organise deliveries and donations coming into the hospital from local businesses, making up boxes of goodies and care packages for the wards and delivering them.
Why did you decide to continue volunteering?
After seeing the bravery, courage and sacrifice of all the Front line NHS staff and Key workers, I felt that I, too had a civic as well as a moral duty to help the charity who needed fit and healthy volunteers to assist them with the huge task of sorting and distributing the care packages to the staff in the hospital.
Have there been any highlights in your new role?
The highlight of my day is when I see a huge smile lighting up the faces of the NHS staff and their deep appreciation of the kindness and generosity of all the people who have donated to the charity.
Rashmi also shared that…
I'm bowled away by the extent of the kindness and generosity shown by individuals as well as business organisations during these uncertain and challenging economic times. I'm happy to be able to help and make a small difference.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers and staff at the Royal Free Charity have helped to transform the Recreation Club next to The Royal Free Hospital into a free supermarket for staff at the hospital. Hospital staff can come to the Rec Club after their shift to collect essentials that they need for free! Also saving them needing to go to out to the shop after a long shift.
The team of volunteers, led by the Rec Club manager Kelly, help to keep the shop open from 6.30-10am and 6.30-10pm on weekdays and 6.30-10am at the weekends.
Volunteers help by receiving and sorting through deliveries of food and toiletries and re-stocking the shop between opening times. When the shop is open, the volunteers help shop visitors to find what they are looking for. The service is immensely popular and the volunteers at the Rec Club helping around 700 staff each time the shop opens!
The volunteers also help to put together boxes of goodies to send to the Royal Free London Trust’s satellite sites so that all staff in the Trust feel appreciated.
Beth, one of our volunteers at the Rec Club commented that the service is very impressive and a “major logistical undertaking, [which was] up and running in a very short space of time”. She said:
“I am delighted to have the opportunity to be useful and to help support the stand while they are working so hard in such difficult circumstances.”
The help of volunteers is greatly appreciated by the staff at the hospital during their response to COVID-19 (coronavirus). It is wonderful to see a community pull together to support each other so generously through these challenging times.
Julia Karpa- Barnet Hospital Volunteer 2018/19
On the 2nd April Julia attended the centenary celebrations for The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). Hosted by Her Majesty The Queen, the reception brought together people within the UK charity sector and volunteers of all ages to highlight the achievements of voluntary action in the UK over the last 100 years.
Julia wanted to share her experience of the day...
How did you feel when you found out?
When I was invited to the NCVO reception at Windsor Castle, which was to be hosted by Her Majesty the Queen, I was incredibly excited.
Tell us about your volunteering
As an arts and crafts volunteer at Barnet Hospital, every Wednesday I visit the different wards at the hospital and make a range of things including cards, tissue paper flowers and seasonal decorations with patients. It’s a fun role and a great break from studying. I felt extremely grateful to The Royal Free Charity for selecting me to attend such a special event. I also thought it was very kind of The Queen to recognise the role of volunteers and charities with a reception at her castle.
So what happened on the day?
I arrived at Windsor Castle with Emma (The Young Volunteer Programme Manager). I have only ever visited Windsor once (when I went to Legoland as a child), so this was my first time seeing the castle. The castle grounds were beautiful and there were a lot of daffodils everywhere. After we put our stuff in the cloakroom, we entered a large room which was full of portraits. The staff were very welcoming and friendly, and we were offered drinks with a range of sweet and savoury canapes. We chatted with volunteers from other organisations- it was great to find out what kinds of things other people are involved in. It was especially nice to meet a few people who volunteer in North London (where I live).
Did you see the Queen?
After a while we were told to form a line- nobody really knew where we would be taken or what to expect. It turned out we were lining up to meet The Queen! I think it was a surprise for everyone. The Queen wore an eye-catching, bright aqua blue skirt and suit. All the guests got an opportunity to shake the Queen’s hand and have a photo taken with her.
We then entered an even bigger reception room where I and a few other people were pulled to the side by NCVO. We were told that we would meet The Queen properly and have a short conversation with her. We stood in a semi-circle (Julia is in the above tweet) and The Queen approached us individually and asked us questions.
I was asked what I do, where I volunteer and how long I have been volunteering for. She seemed lovely and showed genuine interest in what I do. It was a real privilege to meet her and I admire how she has been involved in so much charitable activity throughout her life.
I went back to chatting with the other volunteers after The Queen left. The staff kept bringing more plates of colourful canapes which tasted really good, the whole atmosphere was great. Princess Anne was also at the reception and I got a chance to speak with her too and tell her about my arts and crafts role. The evening passed quickly and the whole event was an amazing experience.
Calum Connelly - Barnet Hospital Volunteer 2017/2018
I have always carried an interest in human health throughout my studies, but it was not until I volunteered at Barnet Hospital that I began to consider a career in Medicine as my future profession.
For over a year I rotated across three departments; a dementia ward, a stroke ward and the A&E unit. Supporting healthcare professionals and befriending patients gave me a plethora of fantastic experiences to reflect and learn from, whilst also strengthening my interpersonal skills and ability at working in a multidisciplinary team. Not only this, my time at Barnet Hospital provided me with a deeper insight into the day-to-day operations of a hospital across different wards which was hugely beneficial when applying to university.
Right now, I am studying Medicine at University College London which has been brilliant so far. Keen to carry on volunteering at university and help the future generation of medical students, I am now a mentor for Target Medicine – a widening participation initiative aimed at helping students from underrepresented backgrounds with their university application. I think that it is a privilege to be able to aid a group of students through a difficult time in their academic careers, helping them turn an aspiration into a reality. Over the course of my next six years, I hope to continue as a Target Medicine representative and take on roles within the larger student body here at UCL which should be a new and exciting challenge.
Isabelle Murray - Barnet Hospital Volunteer 2016/2017
Volunteering at Barnet Hospital was an incredible experience for me for many reasons; it made me realise I enjoyed working in a medical environment, and I loved meeting new people and doing my bit to help the community. By volunteering I was able to apply to both the course and universities I wanted to, as it provided me with an understanding of the foundation levels of care. It increased my confidence as it took me completely out of my comfort zone, and I had to be the one to initiate conversations with patients. I’ve learnt so much from not only the staff, but the patients at Barnet Hospital, whose stories were enriching and provided an insight into the lives of those around me.
Currently I am volunteering at a youth organisation, which teaches children leadership skills. I enjoy being able to support their development, and watch how they grow from young teenagers into kind and enthusiastic leaders. I am also working at a netball club, where I teach primary school girls basic netball skills and manage their league games. I love being part of the netball community, and having to ability to shape young girls into fantastic netballers.
Volunteering at Barnet Hospital was truly inspiring, and I enjoyed and learnt from every minute of it!
Tricia Oates - Royal Free Charity Discharge Assistant Volunteer
What made you decide to volunteer?
I used to work in public health NHS as a healthy schools coordinator of 85 schools. I always knew that when I retired I would continue to work with people and in the NHS. I spent 14 years in the NHS and 20 years as a teacher.
I am now officially retired but work 12 hours a week hosting and stewarding people to concerts at The Royal Festival Hall.
Tell us about your volunteering
I set aside every Tuesday for the Royal Free and I am proud to call myself a volunteer there. It is very rewarding to be able to give something back.
My role is to help in the discharge lounge where patients come off the wards ready to go home. We make them comfortable with refreshments and a chat as they wait for all the necessary arrangements to be made for their discharge.
I might be sent to the pharmacy to collect their medication or to the wards to collect prescriptions which I need to record and get authorised by the professionals. I have been trained to push a wheelchair so I also am able to collect patients from the wards and bring them to the discharge lounge.
This is such a valuable role as it really can speed up the time that the patient waits to be discharged. Caroline Cahill and her discharge team are an extremely efficient and welcoming and I feel that I belong in the team and am really making a difference.
Neha – Barnet Hospital Ward Assistant Volunteer
It’s 5pm on a Tuesday in May. I am waiting anxiously outside the volunteer’s office with my purple t-shirt and ID badge. Brad, the volunteer’s manager greets me excitedly and proceeds to lead me upstairs to the ward I would be volunteering at every week for 6 months.
I dump my stuff and look into the mirror, so many questions and emotions flooding through my head, ‘what if I say the wrong thing?’, ‘what if no one wants to talk to me?’
I enter the ward I see nurses talking and walking around; family members, having animated conversations with their loved ones and staff rushing around doing their bit, just what I had expected.
As a hopeful medical student, had done some work experience before, shadowing doctors, but to be a part of the experience was very exciting for me. I enter one of the bays in the Juniper Ward, a ward for elderly patients. I see a woman in the corner, she sits their lonely, staring into the space. I pluck up the courage to speak to my very first patient, I think back to the staff induction, a lady had told us to always introduce ourselves to the patient, I remember the ‘Hi, my name is...’ campaign. I start ‘Hi my name is Neha’. No response. ‘Can I get you anything?’ she stares at me blankly ‘I can’t hear you’ she says I repeat the question ‘WHAAT speak louder.’
I begin to feel sweaty and flustered, after a few moments of her trying to figure out what I was trying to say the nurse steps in and tells me not to worry. I feel a little disheartened at this point, as I had made a patient feel uncomfortable, nevertheless.
I continue to look for another patient to talk to. I see another woman in the corner of another bay. I walk over and say hi. We then engage in a conversation; she tells me all about her childhood and memories. I smile, because I can see the happiness in her eyes as she tells me these stories. The look in her eyes changes as she talks about one specific memory of the war. Her son takes over and as I step back, I get a warm feeling, I had made a bond with a patient.
Minutes have passed, I introduce myself to the ladies in the kitchen. They ask me if I would like to do a soup round. I nod my head eagerly; I proceed to wheel around the tray of tomato soup. Communication is a key skill in being a ward assistant, a skill that I was keen on improving through becoming one.
I smile whenever I can, to spread positivity through the ward. I try to talk to some of the patients and nurses while doing it and overall, I enjoy it. I make my way around, talking to as many patients as I can.
My last job is the tea round and then my time draws to a close. I leave with a feeling of warmth and happiness, I feel that I have done a good thing, I have made patients feel more comfortable in a sometimes lonely and unexpected place such as a hospital. I look into the same mirror, the questions of doubt have turned into positive thoughts, I look forward to next week.