“Hospice care is life changing……. not just for patients but volunteers too”

Meet Gordon Slack – 68 years young and a volunteer driver for St Elizabeth Hospice.  In 2007 Gordon took early retirement from his job as an IT Business Analyst.  Whilst he looked forward to a more leisurely lifestyle he didn’t bank on how he would feel once he had given up work.
“When I retired I found it hard to settle into my new life.  It felt strange not to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning” says Gordon.  “I’m an active, sociable person and I soon realised that I needed to do something meaningful with my time.”
It was during this transitional time in Gordon’s life that his friend, who worked for St Elizabeth Hospice, told him about a vacancy for a volunteer driver.  Gordon decided to ‘give it a go’ and nine years later he remains committed to his role at the hospice.
Gordon explains:  “I originally took up the role to give me something to focus on and I found it so rewarding that I carried on doing it!  As a volunteer driver I collect patients from their homes and take them to the hospice in Foxhall Road, Ipswich.  They can be attending for all sorts of reasons – to visit the day centre or for an appointment with the doctor or nurse, for therapy or to enjoy an activity such as music or an exercise class.  I’ve met some really nice people from all walks of life; it makes my role very interesting.”  
Contrary to popular belief the hospice is not just about treating patients nearing the end of their life.  People can use hospice care at any stage of their illness.  Gordon says: “I have been driving some people to and from the hospice for years.  They may go in for a few days for rehabilitation after treatment or to adjust their medication to better control their symptoms – or they may simply want to spend a few hours socially with carers and other patients.  It’s great when you can drive patients home from the hospice who feel a whole lot better than when they arrived.”
Whilst Gordon’s role focuses on driving patients between their homes and the hospice, other driving roles are available for volunteers. St Elizabeth Hospice has 26 shops throughout east Suffolk and south Norfolk selling donated and new goods. The shops are a vital source of income and the hospice relies on its invaluable volunteers to help run them through varied roles. 
Volunteer drivers can spend their time moving stock such as books, toys, clothes and electrical items between the retail centre in Ipswich and the 26 shops out in the community.  Furniture that has been kindly donated is also collected by the drivers for selling at the hospice’s dedicated furniture store on Foxhall Road.
So how vital are volunteers to the hospice?  St Elizabeth has over 1,200 volunteers who donate their time and skills, saving the hospice a staggering £1.1million last year alone.  This money is used to support patients, families and carers.  Volunteers currently range in age from 14 to 90 and roles include working on reception, in admin, maintaining the building and gardens, helping at fundraising events, assisting in day care and inpatients units, staffing the retail shops – and of course working as a volunteer driver, just like Gordon, to name a few. 
So who better to ask than Gordon, why do people choose to volunteer?  “I can only speak from a personal view and there are many reasons why I continue to help the hospice as a volunteer”, he says.  “It’s a very caring place, a very positive and friendly place.  I find working here really rewarding – staff, carers and patients all appreciate what the volunteers do.  I meet such interesting people with amazing stories to tell and I’ve learnt so much by listening and talking with them during our regular journeys to and from the hospice.  In my retirement it’s given me a purpose – it’s been life changing.  I’m happier and busier than ever combining my volunteering work with my hobbies of table tennis and bell ringing and I’m enjoying spending quality time with my partner and our grandchildren.”
If Gordon’s story has inspired you to consider a volunteering role at St Elizabeth Hospice – or if you, or someone close to you, has a progressive illness – please click here for further information.

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