The Hospice currently has over 650 volunteers, supporting us in everything that we do. We are proud and humbled that over 200 volunteers help in our shops, 70 people service our collecting cans, and many more support fundraising activities across Edinburgh and the Lothians. We have almost 60 drivers in our Patient Transport Team, and in total almost 400 people regularly come into the Hospice itself to help us in all sorts of ways – answer our phones, greet visitors, serve refreshments, arrange flowers, help on the wards, offer counselling, complementary therapy or chaplaincy support, and provide a huge range of behind-the-scenes office services.
One of our volunteers will be marking 40 years of volunteering this year, and we know that others who have joined recently were part of the original group, fundraising for the Hospice before it opened.
Hospices have a long and proud history of volunteer involvement. When Dame Cecily Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, opened the first modern hospice, St Christopher’s, in Sydenham in 1967, she made a deliberate commitment to involve volunteers.
Shortly afterwards, Anne Weatherill, who had the original vision to set up a modern Hospice in Edinburgh, was inspired by hearing Cecily Saunders speak here in Edinburgh in the late 1960s. In order to find out more, Anne volunteered at the newly-opened St Christopher’s Hospice for three weeks – so she could be seen as not only the founder, but also the first person to volunteer for the benefit of St Columba’s Hospice. Anne pulled together a small team of volunteers, equally committed to a hospice in Edinburgh and together they worked to raise awareness and money. Once Challenger Lodge had been purchased, volunteers furnished it and set it up and when local people living nearby heard about the new Hospice, they also volunteered to help out. The first member of staff was appointed in 1976 – by then, volunteers had already been involved for nine years.
Once the Hospice was up and running, volunteers became involved in providing teas, running reception, looking after plants and flowers on the wards, and looking after the Hospice garden. They continued to carry out huge amounts of fundraising in new ways – groups sprang up to run fundraising events, and a trading group grew up, to oversee the selling of items to raise money for the Hospice.
The level of support was very strong. Soon after opening, the Hospice had 500 volunteers supporting it, and the first volunteer managers were appointed – Sheana Monteath and Joyce Will. As Hospice services and activities expanded, roles for volunteers expanded too. With the opening of Day Hospice came a need for drivers to bring patients in and take them home, and volunteers were asked to run the Murray Room and the Iona Room, where staff, volunteers, patients and visitors could get refreshments.
Today, our team ranges in age from 16 to over 90. Our volunteers are drawn from across Edinburgh and beyond to volunteer in the Hospice, others volunteer locally in one of our shops or by servicing local collecting cans, but most come into the Hospice.
Many will come because the Hospice has cared for a relative or friend, and they want to ‘give something back’. Some are looking to develop their skills or confidence, before starting work, going back into work, or going on to study. And for some, we are simply the most convenient place – just around the corner, and a great local charity! Whatever their reasons, we want to make sure that everyone enjoys their volunteering, and goes home knowing that they have made a difference.
As with all things, volunteering has changed. Volunteering now looks very different from the 1970s, when the Hospice opened, and it will continue to evolve. Changing patterns of work, later retirement, and a huge increase in youth volunteering are beginning to affect who approaches us, and the time that they offer. So we need to think smarter!
In the last few years, we have developed new roles for volunteers. We now have a small team of volunteers with dogs (and a cat!), visiting the Hospice. We have hugely expanded our tin collecting team, more than doubling the amount we raise through this method, and also reminding local people that the Hospice is there for everyone. We have many gifted volunteers already, with qualifications or working histories as nurses, counsellors, social workers or teachers. We want to find new ways of using their skills to help our patients and their families. We are also more thoughtful about how we involve volunteers with strong skills – we have a volunteer working with us to support the implementation of our strategy and measure our achievements, and another who is working with us to look at how we can best capture and respond to feedback. We are looking at more flexible working patterns for volunteers, and using new technology for communication and support.
We have bold plans to modernise and expand the services provided by St Columba’s Hospice over the next few years, and we know that the involvement of skilled and skilful volunteers as part of our staff team is a crucial part of helping us to reach as many people as we can, offer them appropriate support, and ensure that we can be with them, whatever their journey. If you want to be part of this exciting adventure, ring us on 0131 551 1381, and speak to someone in volunteer services. We would love to hear from you!
Karen Filsell, volunteer services manager