Published 9 June 2024     More in
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St Christopher’s is enormously grateful for the time, dedication and skills of all of its more than 1,000 volunteers. Although, if you ask almost any one of the volunteers, like Karen Atkinson, they’ll say it’s them who feel fortunate.

Not long after her father Roland, 82, died in December 2021, under the care of St Christopher’s, Karen applied to be a volunteer and she’s delighted she did.

“Dad was so well cared for by the community nurses. They were wonderful with their support and also helped him with his Attendance Allowance and getting his Blue Badge. I missed Dad and really wanted to give something back.

“Two years later I just feel so lucky because I’ve met so many wonderful people, learned new skills and now feel like I can talk to anyone about anything.”

It was as part of St Christopher’s Compassionate Neighbours programme that Karen began her volunteering journey. She hadn’t felt quite ready to work directly with patients so soon after her dad’s death, but liked the sound of being matched with a woman in her neighbourhood who could use some support and company.

“We just hit it off immediately. She lived just a 10-minute walk away from me in Beckenham, she had a wicked sense of humour and we had things in common.

“She had been housebound for ages but pretty soon we started going out, to the shops, to her local café and to the hairdresser. She just loved being out and having someone to talk to.

“Towards the end of her life I was going to see her three or four times a week and phoned her every day. But as a Compassionate Neighbour you can do as little or as much as you like.

“One of my last memories of her is from when I took to her to the club at her local Catholic church and they had a Sinatra night. She was singing along having a fantastic time.”

“[Compassionate Neighbours is] just one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done, because it really works both ways.

While Karen says her Compassionate Neighbours death in January affected her whole family, she regards the overall experience as hugely positive and beneficial.

“With both my parents and my in-laws having died, I really missed caring for and talking to old people.”

“I felt very supported by St Christopher’s. You can phone them any time and there are regular meetings when you can raise concerns. One day when I was feeling a bit low, they phoned me to say that the nurses had written in my Compassionate Neighbours notes that when they’d asked her, what matters to you, she’d said me.”

For the last year, Karen has also been volunteering with the Wellbeing team offering Namaste Care for both in- and out-patients. These two-hour sessions involve hand massages and spa services in a relaxing, sensory space in the hospice’s Lavender Room.

“I think for the in-patients it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to leave the four walls of the wards, enjoy the feeling of being touched and the chance to chat to someone in a calming atmosphere.”

As with her time as a Compassionate Neighbour, Karen insists the benefits are two-way.

“I have learned so much and feel like I’ve really improved my people skills. When I started, I was nervous I might say the wrong thing. I’ve met so many wonderful people and I now feel like I can talk to anyone regardless of what they’re going through.

“It’s really made me appreciate my own family and life. And if I can do something to make someone’s life better, even for just a minute, then that is very humbling. I’m always struck by the positivity at St Christopher’s. Even people at the end of life seem so positive there.”

Namaste care

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