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Volunteer Week: Celebrating hospice's unsung heroes

Every year more than 850 volunteers give up their time to ensure Saint Francis Hospice provides the best care and support to everyone who needs it. 
Hospice Volunteers Rita and Paul Gersh  (cropped)

As part of Volunteers Week, (1-7 June) the hospice is highlighting the incredible contribution made by its dedicated volunteers who work a total of 135,225 hours a year and save the charity almost £2 million every year. 


There are many reasons why volunteers decide to get involved but what they all share is a great sense of satisfaction at being part of an organisation which makes a difference to peoples' lives. 


"The UK Volunteer Week gives us a special opportunity to say a HUGE 'Thank You' to the 853 volunteers working in our hospice departments, shops and within the community," said Gill Wendelken, voluntary service's manager at the hospice.   "This wonderful and essential volunteer team, which is appreciated all year round, adds so much to the work of our organisation through their unselfish giving of time, experience and skills. " 


Here are the stories of just a few of those volunteers:


Rita and Paul Gersh 


Talented couple Rita and Paul Gersh, both 68, (pictured above) are combining their passion for singing with their service to the community.   Rita first started volunteering on the reception desk six years ago and was later joined by her husband Paul, who supports the fundraising team. "I feel I am making a valuable contribution to the hospice and I enjoy the work I do as no two days are the same," said Rita, who lives in Ilford. 


Paul, a retired investment banker, said he finds his role satisfying and enjoys the camaraderie with the team. 


"I feel I am making a difference as every task I do saves a paid worker from having to do it," he added.   In 2012 Rita, who has been a member of her SWERS synagogue choir for the past 32 years, got to indulge her lifelong passion for singing by setting up a choir at the hospice.  "I have been singing all my life," said Rita. "Singing is my passion and it is very much a way of life for me. I felt it was another opportunity to raise vital funds for the hospice as well." 


Paul, has also been singing with the synagogue choir for 28 years and is one of the 36 members of the hospice choir.  The choir, which meets every week during term time, perform at hospice events including the Sunflower Picnic and Light up a Life. It has also performed at churches and carol concerts at Queen's theatre and earlier this year the choir raised £2,154 after it organised a concert at the SWESRS synagogue in Newbury Park.  


"We are lucky to enjoy the same things and be part of a worthwhile cause," said Rita. "That is what it is all about." 


Pearl Harley   


Pearl Harley, 79, has been volunteering every Monday for the past 16 years and during that time she has helped comfort countless families and relatives. 


"I find it very rewarding that I have done something that will hopefully have helped someone that day," said Pearl, a former lab technician at Havering Sixth Form College.  

Rachel Triggs 300 pix (edited)"As we are going around we can talk to patients and their relatives. Sometimes they really need someone to talk to." 

Pearl, (pictured right) who lives in Brentwood, said her role involves getting breakfast trays ready for patients, bringing patients refreshments and ensuring cupboards are stocked. he grandmother decided get involved after she lost three sister in laws to cancer related illness and says the hospice is now a very important part of her life. 


"I want to put something back because you never know when you are going to need it as well," said Pearl. "Everyone at the hospice is very caring and it is a lovely environment. Unless you have actually been there you may have a fear of a hospice but it is such a lovely peaceful place." 


Rose Goddard


Rose Goddard, 84, who is celebrating her 30th year as a volunteer, had her first contact with the hospice shortly after it opened in 1984 and her husband Jimmy became one of the very first patients. 


Jimmy, 62, who had cancer, spent three months at the hospice and Rose was so impressed by the care he received that she was inspired to get involved. 

Rachel Triggs 300 pix (edited)
"He was very ill and I was so grateful to the hospice for caring for him," said Rose, who travels by bus from Romford. "There was no day care or home care service available at the time so until then we had to struggle along. When Saint Francis Hospice offered to help him he went in.  They gave him a bath and washed his hair. All these things made such a difference." 

Rose started volunteering on reception while she was still working for the pharmaceutical company Smith and Nephew and remained in the same role for 25 years. Five years ago Rose, who now helps in the general office and with the family bereavement team, was diagnosed with cancer of the ear and while she has recovered she says her experience means she can truly understand what patients are going through. 


"I had radiotherapy for six weeks and it was a very scary time for me," said Rose. "I can relate to patients who have had treatment as I know what they are going through." And even after all these years Rose still enjoys helping at the hospice. "I still feel as if I have something to give," she said. "It is just so satisfying and it has never been a chore to me."


Rachel Triggs 


Rachel Triggs, 39, (pictured below) was so devastated when her close friend was given just two years to live she was spurred into action and now gives up 35 hours a month to support the hospice. Rachel, from Romford, initially started working on reception once a month before becoming involved with the bereavement group and giving one to one bereavement support to families. 

Rachel Triggs 300 pix (edited)

"I became passionate about hospice work after I saw the care my friend had received from another hospice," said Rachel, who also runs information sessions for staff about dementia. "She was one of my best friends and we were the same age. It was a big wake-up call and I felt I wanted to do something useful with my life." 

Rachel, who works full time in a bank, said she has always been interested in doing support work but never imagined she would get the chance to do it through her role on reception.

"Volunteering at the hospice keeps my feet on the ground and feeling grateful for things," she added. "It is easy to get hung up on silly things in the office but when I sit with clients it keeps me in touch with what matters and reminds me how life can turn around in the blink of an eye." 


The Hospice will be hosting a series of Thank You evenings in June and July to recognise and celebrate all the hard work done by volunteers, many of whom will also be presented with long service awards. 


There are a wide range of volunteer opportunities and the hospice is particularly in need of complementary therapists, drivers to transport patients and carers, shop assistants, helpers for the garden and at fundraising events. 


To get involved or to find out more contact the Voluntary Services Department on 01708 758614 or visit our website at www.sfh.org.uk.