I have been helping out at Leuchie House for about four years, mainly in the physiotherapy department, which has added a new dimension to my voluntary efforts since I retired over nine years ago. After an office-based career, involving a lot of contact with politicians, I find it particularly rewarding working alongside carers and nursing staff who are making a big difference to people’s lives.
I would advise anyone with any spare time to try volunteering. You can get tremendous satisfaction from helping people and if you keep an open mind you might surprise yourself at what you can do. I never saw myself working in physiotherapy, for example, as my background was not health-related at all.
Before I retired I was a solicitor working in local government. I started voluntary work immediately on retirement, initially in roles more directly related to my work experience. People had said to me that the worst thing you can do when you retire is stop abruptly. This has turned out to be good advice for me.
After five years or so, I moved on to more “hands-on” roles, including helping out at a Chest Heart and Stroke Centre for a couple of hours a week.
Around then I heard about Leuchie, which was threatened with closure at the time, and wondered if there was anything I might be able to do to help, so I called and was invited to visit. I was thinking that they might need some backroom legal or company secretarial help, but Mairi O’Keefe (Leuchie’s Chief Executive) said what about helping out in physio and I agreed to give it a go.
It suited me as I like to keep moving – and I really enjoy the day-to-day chat with the guests.
The thing about Leuchie is that all the people who come here have such a variety of interests and backgrounds and I really enjoy getting to know them all. It’s also rewarding when you see people getting the benefit from their physio.
The physiotherapy comes as part of the overall package for people who come to Leuchie House for respite care breaks. Many of them have not had any exercise since being diagnosed with a long-term condition and the physiotherapists here will be able to assess them fully over their two-week stay and see what programme of exercise and physio would work best for them.
This gives people an opportunity to maybe gain a bit of strength that they did not know they had. I am not a trained physiotherapist, but Leuchie gives plenty of training to volunteers.
The physiotherapy is a very important element of guests’ care when they are at Leuchie.
It comes alongside a full range of trips, outings and in-house activities and the thing they get here that might not be available anywhere else is that everything is done to suit the individual. This means if someone is booked in for physio but feels they need a lie-down instead, that is what they’ll do and we will see them later. It is all about choice – which is something many guests will have lost in their home environment.
My father had MS so I am used to that particular condition, but Leuchie also looks after people with other complex care issues, such as the results of a stroke or Motor Neurone Disease, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, Huntington’s. Sometimes the biggest challenge for volunteers is communication because many of these conditions leave people increasingly unable to speak clearly as the condition progresses.
One of the advantages of being at Leuchie rather than in a hospital environment is that there are approximately 20-odd guests at any time, so the staff can really get to know them while they are here and work out the best way to communicate effectively.
From my point of view, it’s always interesting getting to know people’s stories and having the time to chat while you are helping them exercise so it’s worth the extra effort if they are difficult to understand at first.
We always have a great laugh in physio and it’s good when the same people come several times a year for breaks as you can pick up where you left off with the chat.
• Frank Black is a volunteer at Leuchie House www.leuchiehouse.org.uk