Feature: With more than 500 volunteers, DGH relies on community support

Corrie Cordner (L) and Val Gower (R) who volunteer in the flower shop.
Corrie Cordner (L) and Val Gower (R) who volunteer in the flower shop.

GIVE 100 people 100 seconds to name as many roles done by hospital volunteers as they can and you can bet your last pound that the most common answers will be helping in a shop or cafe.

Chances are nobody will highlight the help given to the on-site chaplaincy team or assistant pharmacists. At a push people might mention the hospital radio DJs.

Most people would be blind to the stack of services which benefit from the dedication and hard work of volunteers.

Few would be able to guess just how many people there are currently lending a welcome helping hand at the DGH. The answer is as impressive as it is surprising.

“We have around 500 people at the moment,” revealed the hospital’s head of voluntary service, Corinne France. “And a similar number at our sister site in Hastings, as well as 200-300 working in the community.

“They are a real mix of people as well. People used to think volunteering was just about middle class ladies who did not go to work, but that is not the case any more.

“Around 25 per cent of our volunteers are young people and it’s great to have that variety.

“Younger people get to see that life does not necessarily stop when you hit 30 while the older, retired volunteers realise how many brilliant young people are doing marvellous things in this town.”

Many younger volunteers are aspiring health professionals keen to get experience on the wards. Some have left to study, completed their training and returned to the DGH to start their careers.

Others have given up to 10, 20 or 30 years of dedicated service as volunteers, all of whom are expected to commit to four or five hours a week.

One stalwart is Yvonne Chatwin. She was sent on a hand treatment course five years ago after staff on the stroke ward asked the volunteering department for help. Yvonne came back, realised the job was too big for two or three people, and got together with Mrs France to set up an entire team. Since then the service has blossomed and her heavenly hand massages are in demand wherever she goes.

Speaking while rubbing moisturiser into the arm of one lucky patient, Mrs Chatwin explained, “People enjoy it because we are not trying to give them an injection or medication – we are just pampering them.

“Sometimes people can be anxious about their treatment or just want a chat to remind them about the world outside.”

Many of the older volunteers act as mentors to the younger recruits, something Mrs France says is vital to focus people’s minds on the patient as a person and not a statistic.

“Once our young people move onto training they can get occupied with statistics and the clinical side of things. Hopefully they remember what they learn when they are with us, that patients are people.

“I would like to think we help with people’s bedside manner when they go on to become doctors or nurses.”

The number of people willing to give up their spare time for the hospital speaks volumes for the hospital itself.

“It shows how well thought of the hospital is in the community. I would say that the majority of people who offer up their time do so as a way of saying thank you to the DGH for care either they have received or that has been given to a loved one.”

In the end though, the volunteer is as likely to benefit from the deal as the hospital itself. “It can be a great way to gain experience and the social side is brilliant. We get some people who may have lost a loved one and come along as a way of starting to rebuild their life and make new friends.

“I really admire the courage of those people because it cannot be easy.”

The only real criteria for would-be volunteers is that they are caring and can commit to a set amount of hours. There are certainly no age blocks. “We have helpers from 16 upwards and our oldest is 91,” added Mrs France.

“People can continue to volunteer with us all the time they are physically able to do and, given the varied nature of what we offer, anyone who is perhaps struggling in one area can usually be moved to another more suitable.”

Full training is provided and the hospital holds regular recruitment evenings. The team’s motto could easily be ‘The more the merrier’.

Two volunteers were manning the florist next to reception. Val Gower and her colleague Corrie Cordner said, “We love volunteering. We get to see a lot of people and it is nice to think that some of the flowers we arrange can bring a smile to people on the ward.

“One of the best things is when a new dad comes in all smiles. It is lovely to see – and they usually spend a bit more.”

Another volunteer acts as a welcomer on the nearby front desk. A stone’s throw away is the volunteer-run cafe and the other side of the foyer is the shop.

Volunteering, it seems, underpins much of what is done on a day-to-day basis at the DGH.

“The hospital would not grind to a halt if the volunteering stopped,” said Mrs France, “but it would love a bit of its personal touch.”

If you would like to become a volunteer call 01323 417400 ext 4880.