Volunteers Week: Celebrating the champions of Pilgrims Hospices

Pilgrims Hospice volunteer Arleen with dog Rosie

Today (June 1) marks the start of Volunteers Week, celebrating all those who give their time for a variety of causes.

It takes place from June 1-7 every year and is an opportunity to celebrate volunteering in all its diversity.

As well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to improve volunteers’ wellbeing.

Among the organisations celebrating their volunteers is Pilgrims Hospices which has more than 1,500 people giving up their time to help run the retail shops, warehouses, man stalls at events, baking, crafting, counting, manning reception areas, administration support, working in the education centre, supporting within the therapy centres, driving families so they can attend sessions and so much more.

Cate Russell, Pilgrims Hospices Chief Executive, said: “Our wonderful volunteers are the backbone of Pilgrims, without them our families would have a much poorer experience and we would struggle to raise the funds we need and to deliver the level of support and care we are so highly regarded for.

“We always get such positive feedback from the families we support, our community does so much toward funding and this is so often because of the volunteer’s efforts.  On behalf of the families, staff and Trustees, I would like to give a huge heartfelt thank you.  Our volunteers are truly making a different and together we are Pilgrims.”

Meet the volunteers

Arleen and Rosie

Arleen Paton-Smith and her dog, Rosie, from Birchington, are helping to make a difference to Pilgrims Hospices patients who are living with an incurable illness.

Rosie is a Maltese Terrier and Bichon Frise cross-breed and registered as a Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog. She visits the Margate hospice once a week with Arleen, so that patients can experience the many calming, anxiety-reducing benefits that come through interacting with animals.

Arleen said: “Rosie has a special pink sparkly collar and lead, which we keep for visiting so she knows where we are going when I put it on her. As soon as we arrive at the hospice she can’t wait to go in.”

Arleen and Rosie visit on Thursday mornings when patients coping with a life limiting illness at home come into the hospice for a day. Arleen chats with patients and volunteers, and Rosie greets everyone in her friendly way. Afterwards, they go up to the hospice ward to meet in-patients and their visitors.

Arleen added: “Rosie is always very keen to see the patients and often gently talks to them, even if it’s to ask for a treat! It can be a pleasant distraction for them to welcome her. Many patients have had their own pets and miss them, so getting a cuddle with Rosie brings back lovely memories, which they are happy to share with me. Because she is small and fluffy she is perfect to sit on a lap or even the bed, and you can see the pleasure that having contact with an animal brings to patients.”

Arleen was a volunteer receptionist for 13 years at the Canterbury hospice, which she thoroughly enjoyed but stopped when she moved to Birchington.

She said: “When Rosie came into my life as a rescue dog, a friend told me about Pets As Therapy and I decided to apply. Happily, we were accepted. I’m a big supporter of Pilgrims and the wonderful work they do, so it’s the perfect place for Rosie and I to volunteer as I don’t have to leave her at home. Our roles with Pilgrims and Pets As Therapy mean that I can still enjoy volunteering but in a different way.

“It is a fact that pets can lower anxiety and blood pressure and be a temporary distraction for patients, family and staff, so I hope that Rosie and I help during our visits in some small way. We certainly enjoy meeting and talking to so many lovely people.”

Joan Austin

Joan Austin from Westgate chose to volunteer for Pilgrims Hospices after retiring, having spent 25 years in construction industry publishing and 15 years working in a government IT quango. Here, she shares what she loves about volunteering and the positive things she’s learnt about local hospice care.

Joan started volunteering at Pilgrims Hospice Thanet in 2013. She has had several roles, and currently does a regular weekly shift in the fundraising office helping with banking, which is a very important and valued role.

Alongside her volunteer role at Pilgrims, Joan keeps active with line dancing, walking netball and pickleball, which is like table tennis on a badminton court. She also volunteers for Canterbury Archaeology Trust, cleaning the finds that have been excavated in Kent including bones, pottery and clothes.

Why did you decide to volunteer for Pilgrims and what do you enjoy about it?

I was approaching retirement (I know, I look too young to have retired!) and making a list of things I might like to do with my free time. I enjoy volunteering at the hospice because it’s so varied – I’ve volunteered on the hospice reception, the outpatient clinic reception and now in the fundraising office. It’s nice to have the opportunity to take on different roles. Variety is the spice of life!

What positive things have you learned about Pilgrims that others might not know?

I’ve made lots of friends here. I didn’t realise the hospice provides all the services that it does, and I’ve enjoyed going to meetings where staff talk about the role they play. The atmosphere is cheerier than people think and it’s nice to chat and joke with patients, I think they enjoy the normality of it.

Karen Kenward, Community Fundraising Manager, said: “Joan is very concise and accurate in her role. She also helps out at many fundraising events on the registration desks. She is knowledgeable and creative, and so giving. Joan also paints stones and makes teapot cosies in her spare time, helping to bring in vital funds for our craft events. She gets to count her very own funds generated through her wonderful talents. It’s a real pleasure working with Joan as part of the Thanet team, her smiley face and chit-chat is so very warming each week.”

Inspired to become a Pilgrims’ volunteer?

Visit pilgrimshospices.org/volunteer and look out for more stories and information throughout Volunteers’ Week!

Tell your volunteer story on social media by using the hashtags #PilgrimsLife and #VolunteerVoices