Why volunteering for an Essex charity can be so rewarding for you and for others
PUBLISHED: 11:18 21 January 2020 | UPDATED: 11:18 21 January 2020
Is it time for a change? Joe Emery discovers how volunteering for a local charity could change your life, and make a huge difference to others too
The Christmas decorations are back in the loft, and it's cold and dark outside. Your bank balance has taken a pounding and you're struggling to fasten the button on your jeans. To top it off, summer seems a billion light-years away.
Either Father Christmas's elves have spent December in your wardrobe, naughtily restitching your clothes or you're deep into a festive food and drink hangover - the latter being most likely - and it just feels like your life needs a little refocusing.
Does this 12-monthly cycle sound familiar?
A top university professor has calculated that Monday, January 13, 2020 will be 2020's Blue Monday - the most miserable day of the year.
It's drilled into us that January has to be the month of low expectations, self-berating and cutting out vices, but it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom.
In fact, St Francis Hospice has plenty of reasons to be cheerful, namely, all of the wonderful volunteering opportunities that are available to give your life more of the feel-good factor.
Whether you're looking to upskill, change career or simply help those who are less fortunate, now could be the perfect time for you to make an impact.
Some older helpers volunteer to keep them on their toes during retirement while many younger volunteers like to add some oomph to their CV.
We all have something that we're great at and you can put your skills to good use, whatever they may be.
Volunteers currently work on reception, at events or among the wildlife in the hospice's tranquil gardens. There's the chance to get involved in photography, finance, maintenance, cake making or driving patients to and from the hospice.
Some volunteers work on OrangeLine, helping people who feel isolated, lonely or who are going through a bereavement. By volunteering, you'll be making a huge difference to the lives of people living with life-limiting illnesses in your county.
Catherine Green volunteers at St Francis Hospice's day unit, Pemberton Place. It's a social hub for people who all have at least one thing in common: a life-limiting illness.
And yet, Pemberton Place is full of life and laughter. It's where patients go to enjoy live music, friendship or putting the world to rights over a cup of tea.
They're also there to feel the benefits of physiotherapy, talking and creative therapy, as well as pampering from massages, beauty treatments and haircuts.
Catherine needed something flexible to fit around the school runs and taking care of her three children, so helping at Pemberton House was the perfect option.
'The feelings of fulfilment and joy from volunteering at the hospice is something that I've never experienced from a paid job,' Catherine explains.
Catherine's granddad was cared for by St Francis Hospice and, despite some initial misgivings, he became a regular at Pemberton Place after he was diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to his brain.
'Like a lot of people who I speak to, granddad only associated hospices with negative things,' recalls Catherine.
But granddad David grew to love his trips to the hospice, so much that he couldn't keep away. 'The hospice made him realise that he wasn't alone,' adds Catherine.
'Being around people in the same position as him who were making the most of what they had helped him so much.'
You will find Catherine pouring tea and coffee, taking patients for lunch, and providing them with some often much-needed companionship. Like her granddad, she also had apprehensions before she discovered what the hospice is really like.
'I always believed that St Francis Hospice was a place where you go to die, but it's the complete opposite,' she continues.
'You don't realise that until you get here. It's a lifeline for a lot of people. Some live by themselves and this is a great social outlet for them.'
Thanks to volunteering, Catherine has experienced mixing with people of all ages and from all different walks of life.
Hoping to forge a career in nursing or care, she knows that her time at the hospice will go a long way in helping her when she moves into a paid role.
Catherine adds: 'I've learnt and experienced so much that I now have the foundations for a successful career.'
Barbara Taylor has been helping people living with life-limiting illnesses for decades. She volunteered at Oldchurch and Queen's Hospitals in Romford for over 30 years, in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Last Christmas she decided to lend a hand at the St Francis Hospice retail store in Upminster and she has been helping the hospice ever since.
Just before the turn of the millennium, Barbara's husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Malcolm was only 57 years old and he was determined not to let his illness get in the way of life.
Despite undergoing countless radiotherapy sessions, the pair travelled the world, played sports and Malcolm continued to run his carpentry business.
Malcolm and Barbara were convinced that together, they had beaten cancer. 'We didn't think it would come back, but it did, 20 years later,' says Barbara.
When Malcolm's health deteriorated, both he and Barbara knew it was time to come to a hospice: 'Malcolm never made a fuss about anything. He was a placid man and happily went along. He just accepted it rather than tying himself in knots.
'Half of me always thought he would come back home again. I was in denial about any other outcome as he always bounced back. Even though he was dying, it was far from an unpleasant experience, thanks to everyone's care and kindness.'
Barbara recalled the fun she had when Malcolm somehow managed to throw himself out of the toilet.
'It was like in the old Western films. You know, when someone slings a cowboy through the saloon doors and on to the road. We checked he was okay at first, of course, then everyone started laughing - Malcolm included.'
After his cowboy stunt, Malcolm spent the final weeks of his life in happiness at the hospice before passing away peacefully with Barbara by his side. He was 77.
Now 80, Barbara cites mixing with young people shopping for vintage clothes in the shop as what keeps her looking and feeling fresh.
'As long as they want me, I'll keep coming!' she said.
Barbara, like many others, is of course very welcome. By helping at the hospice, volunteers make a massive difference to the lives of people living with life-limiting illnesses.
There's scope to get involved in many different types of roles and the team at St Francis Hospice can help to find a role that takes your fancy.
Why not make January 2020 the month that you make a change which changes lives? The biggest change might be in your own life.
Find out more
If you'd like to find out more about volunteering, please visit sfh.org.uk/volunteer, email email@example.com or call 01708 758614.
If you are interested in helping in one of the hospice's retail stores, then simply pop in to your local store, where you can meet some of the current volunteers. You can find your nearest store on the hospice's website.