Volunteering at the bedded unit: Doing our bit for North Devon Hospice’s #250000Hours campaign

Could you lend a hand at North Devon Hospice?

Could you lend a hand at North Devon Hospice? - Credit: Archant

The Gazette has been finding out what it’s like to volunteer for North Devon Hospice as part of its #250000Hours campaign – this week Sarah Howells helped out at the bedded unit at Deer Park.

The bedded unit at North Devon Hospice.

The bedded unit at North Devon Hospice. - Credit: Archant

Like many others, I had a vision of what I believed a hospice to be: cold, sad, the final step before someone reaches the end of their life. This, I soon realised, was completely wrong.

Bright, warm and welcoming, this was not a place of sadness but a place of peaceful acceptance; a place of warm smiles over steaming cups of tea.

In fact, many of the patients have not come here to spend their final days, but for respite care, a break from treatment in a friendly environment.

Former carer Val Smith, from Bickington, has been volunteering at the bedded unit at Deer Park in Barnstaple for the last seven years.

Val Smith helps with everything from watering plants to chatting to patients.

Val Smith helps with everything from watering plants to chatting to patients. - Credit: Archant


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From delivering lunches to chatting to relatives, watering plants and tidying the cupboards, Val does whatever is needed during her shift.

“It’s just about helping out and making life a little bit easier for the patients and their families,” said Val, as we put together a tray of cakes for visiting relatives.

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“If someone wants something we’ll try and find it for them; whether it’s a certain meal or they want us to put on Christmas in June, nothing is too much trouble.”

Val first started volunteering after a close friend was admitted to the hospice, and she vowed to give something back.

The bedded unit at North Devon Hospice.

The bedded unit at North Devon Hospice. - Credit: Archant

She said: “I enjoy it here; it’s a happy place, and a lovely place to volunteer.

“People think it’s going to be sad and clinical, and it’s one-way only, but it’s not. Some people come here and then go home.

“You get to know the patients and their families, sometimes they come back more than once. You do see the changes in them each week, which can be hard.”

Much of my shift was spent making coffee and tea for visiting relatives, and delivering lunch to patients, which they had chosen from the restaurant’s menu.

Gazette reporter Sarah Howells volunteering at the bedded unit.

Gazette reporter Sarah Howells volunteering at the bedded unit. - Credit: Archant

Val and I spent time chatting to two women who had driven through the night to visit their father, who was admitted to the bedded unit that day.

Another of the patients in that day wanted to do something for his wife’s birthday.

He told staff he wanted to give her roses, so they went out and bought some for him, and the kitchen volunteers even made and decorated a beautiful cake.

It’s these little things, trying to bring a flicker of ordinary life into a difficult time for patients and their families, which is why the volunteers here are so crucial.

As Val shows me the rota, it’s clear there are still quite a few empty slots, with morning, lunchtime, evening and weekend shifts of just a few hours each.

The bedded unit relies on its volunteers – not only do they help out with the little jobs, they provide a friendly face for families facing a difficult and often scary time.

“Because we are not in uniform I think patients are often more likely to talk to us about how they’re feeling,” said Val.

Whatever my preconceptions before visiting the bedded unit, I certainly left with a feeling of positivity.

We all lead busy lives but if you can give just a couple of hours to try to bring an element of brightness to just one person’s day, it goes a long way.

There are so many ways that you can volunteer at North Devon Hospice. If you can spare a few hours or more, email 250000hours@northdevonhospice.org.uk or call 01271 344248 to find out how you can help.

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