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Volunteers giving 25,000 hours of service at Addenbrooke's Hospital

By Gemma Gardner

Volunteers at Addenbrookes Picture: Keith Heppell
Volunteers at Addenbrookes Picture: Keith Heppell

An amazing army of voluntary workers carry out an incredible array of roles for Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Volunteers at Addenbrookes, guide Anthony Wallis. Picture: Keith Heppell
Volunteers at Addenbrookes, guide Anthony Wallis. Picture: Keith Heppell

Meet Anthony, Paula, John and Daisy – four of a growing band of people giving up their time to volunteer at Addenbrooke’s.

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has 650 volunteers who last year clocked up more than 25,000 hours of service.

Coming to the hospital as a patient or a visitor can be a daunting and stressful experience.

These volunteers give their time to make the experience of patients and visitors more positive than it might otherwise have been.

Volunteers at Addenbrookes, Health Care Assistant Mia Grigg-Pettitt, with patient Veronica Pretlove and PAT dog volunteer Paula Doran and Lola. Picture: Keith Heppell
Volunteers at Addenbrookes, Health Care Assistant Mia Grigg-Pettitt, with patient Veronica Pretlove and PAT dog volunteer Paula Doran and Lola. Picture: Keith Heppell

John Goddard, 77, is the hospital’s oldest volunteer – and he’s been helping at Addenbrooke’s for the past 10 years.

“It’s the one day of the week that I get up early. I love it here – snow and ice wouldn’t put me off,” he said.

John, who worked as a sales representative for 38 years before retiring, begun volunteering after his wife moved into a care home.

“We got sent here by our local doctor because there was something wrong. We came here and spent the day seeing no end of people. They confirmed that she had dementia – and it was bad.

Volunteers at Addenbrookes, guide John Goddard. Picture: Keith Heppell
Volunteers at Addenbrookes, guide John Goddard. Picture: Keith Heppell

“She stayed with me at home for four or five years but I couldn’t stand it any longer. I said to myself life isn’t worth living for me.”

One day a week, John makes a 74-mile round trip to work from 7am to 3pm at the hospital’s main reception by helping to show patients and visitors where to go.

He said: “I’ve got nobody at home to talk to. I can talk to myself but that’s all I can do. When I come here I get to speak to so many different people.”

He added: “This is my lifeline – a new chapter in my life. I wouldn’t miss it for all the tea in China. I try to put my best into it. I get on well with all the other volunteers and the staff in the other departments. We’re like one, big, happy family.”

Volunteers at Addenbrookes ward volunteer Daisy Hill. Picture: Keith Heppell
Volunteers at Addenbrookes ward volunteer Daisy Hill. Picture: Keith Heppell

Daisy Hill, a former Hills Road Sixth Form student, is 58 years younger than John and is the hospital’s youngest volunteer.

It’s one of a handful of volunteer roles the 19-year-old has taken up on her gap year, including work at her local school and church.

“I love it here. This is one of my favourite bits of the volunteering I do,” she said.

Daisy spends her day with the patients on the hospital’s ward for the elderly.

“They’re really grateful for the company – and I find out all sorts of things!” she explained. “But also if there’s someone who wants to do a puzzle, I’ll sit with them and do a puzzle. Sometimes people just want to sit quietly so I’ll sit and read some poems to them or a bit of the newspaper,” she added.

Budding singer-songwriter Daisy, who is off to read languages at Exeter University in September, begun volunteering at the hospital in December. Her mother, Ursula van Leeuwen-Hill, will take over the role when she leaves.

“I find I love it as much the patients do,” she said. “When I come in on a Friday, I always come out smiling. I love going up to the ward and being a person to chat too. Some days I chat to people and they’re worried about their health but other days we chat about the gardening, holidays, or plants.

“People are surprised to see me, especially up on the wards as I’m from a different generation. I chat to people that were in the war, or people who were married at 19. I think they really appreciate that somebody younger, and busy, would give up their time.”

Daisy loves volunteering and chose the hospital because she felt travelling abroad for her gap year would be more like a holiday.

“My father was in hospital here and the people at Addenbrooke’s were incredible.

“He’s so much better now, and so much better than we ever thought he would be. We were so grateful to be able to come here and volunteer and help the people who helped make him better – there was no decision to be made.”

She added: “I love people, I like care, and I love when other people are happy.”

The average length of service for a volunteer at Addenbrooke’s is two years – but the longest serving member has been at the hospital for 24 years.

Paula Doran, 67, from Hertfordshire, visits with her three-year-old wheaten terrier Lola, one of nine Pets As Therapy dogs who go around the wards and outpatient department to take patients’ minds off their stay in hospital.

“I’ve been in hospital myself and it’s such an alien and lonely environment – and you can feel quite isolated. I would have wanted to see a dog during my stay,” said Paula, a former nurse.

For the past couple of years, the pair have been visiting a care home in Bedfordshire once a week. In December they started volunteering at Addenbrooke’s.

Paula said: “Lola is the perfect dog. To do this you need quite a rare combination of being very calm, but liking people and not jumping up.

“People are often sitting around for long periods of time and are quite isolated and sad. But then when they see the dog come in their faces light up. People greet her with such enthusiasm and get so excited.”

Like many of the volunteers, Paula says she enjoys sitting with the patients and listening to their stories.

“Sometimes they will open up about all sorts of things – about their fears – because I have the time. I never ask prying questions. I just listen,” she said. “It can be quite sad at times because sometimes you’re meeting someone who is in a bad way. But the fact that they can stroke Lola and be with her – it’s amazing. It makes the hospital feel a little bit more like a home.”

Anthony Wallis joined the hospital in January last year. It’s not his first volunteering role. The 62-year-old took a sabbatical from work in 2012 to do volunteer training and HR at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“It was a really interesting place to work – I really enjoyed it and that was the motivation to volunteer here,” said the retired PE teacher.

Anthony, who retired in 2015, always tries to take the stairs and can average 20,000 steps a day while guiding people to their appointments.

“Sometimes people get a bit anxious if they think they’re going to be late, or they don’t know where they’re going so you have to reassure them that you’ll get them where they need to be and on time.”

“You often get to recognise that look of slight disorientation,” he added.

In 2013, Anthony was rushed to the hospital with a detached retina in his eye, which required an emergency operation. Then, in 2015, he returned for the same problem in his other eye.

“I saw the work that was going on and how busy the staff were, and I felt it would be nice to help out,” he said.

The father-of-two added: “For me it was the feeling that staff were under pressure and I wanted to do something to help – just take a bit of pressure off by getting them to their appointments on time.”

He added: “If you’ve got a bit of spare time, come and give it go. The other day I met a lovely gentleman, who was 96 and came in with a walking stick, and asked where the ward is. He very apologetically asked if I could give him a hand up there.

“He’d lived in Cambridge his whole life. We talked about life in Cambridge over the years and it was interesting talking to him – you get to meet lots of different people.”


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