No, wait. Please come back! This isn’t one of those generic cries for help so commonplace that your eyes just skid past. I’m here to make a startling revelation about an army of volunteers. According to the NCVO, an estimated 12.7 million people volunteer in England once a month and in talking to three of them, it dawned on me that volunteering is…work. Often it’s hard and sometimes thankless work. I also found that the reward for such free labour is not just the warm glow you get from helping other people, though that is certainly part of it. So why do so many people give their time to support charities across such a huge range of activity? From policing and armed services to lollipop duty, disaster relief, first aid, bus driving, library services and, well… you name it and a volunteer is probably doing it right now.
I spoke to three local women who volunteer for The Sara Lee Trust, a small charity that makes a big impact on the lives and wellbeing of people in Hastings and Rother affected by cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Named after Sara Lee, who died from cancer in 1995, aged 32, the charity provides 4,000 hours of free care annually, helping more than 600 people through the provision of counselling support and complementary therapies. The charity supports itself by earning income from its half-a-dozen shops, from fundraising and through the tireless efforts of more than 150 volunteers. Here are the stories of three of them:
Ethnie has been on board since the start and her energy and experience are evident. As a physiotherapist at St Michael’s Hospice, Ethnie had valuable insight to the needs of patients and their families to help them to cope with stressful situations. Over the years, Ethnie has developed skills in relaxation and visualisation and after spending many years as the first co-ordinator for the charity, post-retirement has seen her become a sort of super-volunteer, ready to turn her hand to anything. And she does. Recent weeks have seen her introducing and talking to people at events, coaching people on relaxation techniques and getting stuck in at the shop in Silverhill, where she volunteers once a week. Ethnie comes across a huge range of people and her words of wisdom are to take some with a pinch of sugar and some with a pinch of salt! She finds joy in meeting new people and she would advise anybody with time to spare to just try it.
Sarah-Fay is a holistic therapist, trained in reflexology and various massage and facial treatments. Since the beginning of 2017, Sarah-Fay has stepped outside her private studio to give a couple of hours a week on the ward at St Michael’s Hospice. She says, “The job satisfaction really comes from leaving a person in a completely different frame of mind from how they were when I met them. These therapies help to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.” Every charity struggles at times to attract and keep volunteers and Sarah-Fay praises the Sara Lee Trust for the variety of roles on offer. These offer a range of work experiences in the voluntary sector that are great for the CV and bring very nice people together to help a good cause.
Angie is a retired nurse whose lightbulb moment came about courtesy of her husband’s aunt, Cynthia, who became a trustee in 2016. Cynthia’s commitment to and admiration for the work of the charity soon led Angie to enquiring about volunteering in their shop in Ore, Hastings. It’s there that Angie finds herself for three hours every Monday and Wednesday, behind the till, sorting through bric-a-brac and even racing to the rescue when a customer bought a buggy that had been left in the shop by mistake! “It’s a lovely shop,” says Angie , “and working there is a pleasure, not a chore.”
And that sums it up really. Volunteering is work but without people helping other people, we’d be a bit scuppered. If you have a couple of hours on your hands and you’d like to make a difference locally, check these websites for more information.
www.rva.uk.com for other volunteer opportunities across Rother.
Image: Sara Lee Trust