Gemma Holland used to work at St Elizabeth Hospice and during her time with the charity she loved being hands on to help raise their profile and raise funds to aid their work. Since leaving her role in the fundraising team, she has returned to volunteer in a number or roles including assisting at the hospice’s flagship event, the Midnight Walk.
“I took part in my first Midnight Walk just a week before my interview at the hospice,” Gemma recalls. “I absolutely loved it. I loved the buzz. Everyone was interacting with each other and it was so friendly.” She loved the atmosphere so much that she then volunteered at the next four.
She remembers her first one as a volunteer. “I was at the refreshment stop on Derby Road and a number of policemen were also helping out that night. They came dressed as the characters from Top Gun and helped give out water to the walkers. We all had such a great time.”
For the following two, Gemma spent her time at Ipswich Town Football Club, helping with registration and generally making sure the crowd was having a good time and was in the right place to start on their chosen route distance.
At the most recent Midnight Walk in 2017, Gemma volunteered at the Cornhill where she helped to give out t-shirts to those who were collecting theirs on the night and then moved up to The Royal George refreshment stop where she helped to give out bottles of water to walkers and cheer them on along the route.
“I love the beginning part of the Midnight Walk the most,” she says. “Everyone has a common ground and everyone’s so warm and friendly. I love seeing everyone in their t-shirts, especially those who come along with pictures of their loved ones pinned to them. It’s really humbling to see everyone come together in support of the hospice.”
While speaking about her experiences of volunteering Gemma said that she feels a great deal of personal achievement in helping out on the night, more so than she did for taking part. “If you can’t walk the distance,” she said, “it’s a really good way to still be involved in this incredible night of celebration and fundraising. There’s a role for everyone whether you can be involved in a big way or whether you’re able to manage just a few hours on a smaller task. Every single person plays their part in helping get the night up and running and making it in to the success it has become.”
She remembers one lady who volunteered on her own last year and can recall how everyone on the night made her feel welcome and part of the team and created a real community spirit among the volunteers. “You’re never on your own. Even if you don’t have a group of people to come along and volunteer with, everyone makes you feel welcome and you forget that you came along by yourself.”
When thinking about one of her favourite roles of the night she says it all comes down to appreciating the people that are there and taking part. Helping to spur them on, especially when they may be struggling a little near to the end, is a really good way to help people achieve their personal challenge she says.
This year however will be the first time in five years that Gemma has not been able to help at the Midnight Walk as she is undertaking her own personal challenge to help raise money for the hospice.
“A long time ago, I decided that I wanted to raise £10,000 for St Elizabeth Hospice. I’ve taken part in a number of challenges including a sky dive and the Christmas Day Dip but I felt I wanted to do something that challenged me and meant that people would sponsor me a bit more to achieve it.”
In May, while 3,000 people take to the streets of Ipswich, taking part in the Midnight Walk, Gemma will be in Peru, climbing Machu Picchu, a challenge that she is busy training for. “I’m gutted that I won’t be here for the event this year but I’ll be wearing a Midnight Walk t-shirt in Peru and completing my own challenge to raise fund for the hospice.”
Alongside the challenge, Gemma continues to raise money for St Elizabeth Hospice and has held a Disney quiz night, a race night and raffles and has another couple of fundraisers planned including a Turkish night in March.
Throughout her time working at the hospice and now as a volunteer at the charity’s inpatient unit every other week, Gemma has seen first-hand the work of the hospice and the impact it has on patients and their families and this is what spurs her on to continue to volunteer and fundraise.
“Everyone plays their part. Whether you’re giving up your time or donating your money, both sit hand in hand.
“When it comes to the Midnight Walk, volunteers are just as important as those who are walking and they shouldn’t feel any less of an achievement because they’re not taking part. It’s only because of the volunteers that the event is able to take place at all.”
When it comes to the end of the night, Gemma really enjoys joining other volunteers to hand out the medals to walkers as they cross the finish line. “Being part of that buzz when people complete their challenge is incredible. I can never sleep when I get in from helping at the Midnight Walk. I get such an adrenaline rush from seeing everyone have such a wonderful time and at two or three in the morning my head is still whirling round from all the excitement.”
A few days after the event, when the streets have been cleared and the sponsorship begins to come in to the hospice, volunteers receive a letter of thanks for all their help and support on the night. “That’s my medal,” she says, “and the knowledge that I’ve done something to help this great charity help a few other people that need them.”
If Gemma’s story has inspired you to volunteer at this year’s Midnight Walk, register your interest here. There are a range of roles available including help with registration, marshalling the course, car park stewards, refreshment station helpers and medal givers.
To sponsor Gemma on her Machu Picchu challenge, visit her JustGiving page here.