Big Society already exists

After Prime Minister David Cameron’s idea of a ‘Big Society’, whereby volunteers run services, The Evening Star’s health reporter NAOMI GORNALL explores the world of volunteers at Ipswich Hospital and discovers just how important they are.

IPSWICH: Volunteers are the lifeblood at Ipswich Hospital.

More than 200 of them fill the hospital’s corridors and without them, it would be a different place entirely.

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to create a ‘Big Society’, which he says will involve getting volunteers to run vital services.

However at Ipswich Hospital it seems this ‘Big Society’ already exists. Volunteers work in all areas of the hospital, and undertake a range of important roles, from meeting people on the wards, to doing administration work in the office. Each one is special and plays an invaluable role to the running of the hospital.

I spoke to Tom Tyler, 71, who won the hospital’s volunteer of the year at their recent staff awards. He is a fine example of someone who dedicates a lot of his free time to the hospital and if it were not for him and the five other volunteers who help to run the hospital’s Cancer Information Centre, it would not be able to open.

From chatting to Tom, it is clear that the work he and his colleagues do provide great comfort to those who have cancer, and need a listening ear or friendly face at a difficult time in their life.

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After receiving “marvellous treatment” at the Heath Road hospital when he suffered from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma four years ago, Tom decided he wanted to give something back and began volunteering at the Cancer Information Centre.

He gets involved in meeting and greeting people, and also helps run a new group called Moving On, which assists patients who have just been given the all-clear and don’t know how to move on with their lives. With just two paid employees who work at the centre, he said the six volunteers are needed to keep it running.

He said: “We have thousands of visitors a year. We give people time whereas the consultants and speech nurses are incredibly busy. People can come in to the centre and ask questions, tell us their concerns or anxieties, or have complementary therapies.”

Tom, from Rushmere St Andrew, is semi-retired but runs his own business as a dissectologist (jigsaw puzzles enthusiast), lecturer and writer. He was also a Church of England priest for 45 years, which he said equipped him with the skills needed to be a volunteer.

He said: “The staff’s first job is to make people better with some sort of treatment whereas the volunteers can talk to people and help them express their worries and fears. They can also run errands and do all sorts of chores leaving specialist nurses free to do the much more important work.

“When I come away [from volunteering], I have a sense of fulfilment that I have helped people. We also have a lot of fun.”

Another of the volunteers is Jason Jaramillo, who works as a gardener. Jason first came to the hospital on a work placement from the YMCA training centre 18 months ago. He works four days a week as a gardener, which ranges from cutting the grass to getting involved in projects like helping to create a community garden for patients, staff and visitors.

He said: “I like working outdoors and it feels like I’m doing some good. It is a nice atmosphere to work in.”

Jackie Squirrell, works one day a week processing volunteer applications. She started volunteering after she was made redundant from her job in an estate agents and says it feels “very rewarding” to help people.

Julie Fryatt, director of Human Resources said: “Our volunteers range from students on gap years to colleagues who are 90 years young – the range and diversity of skills which they bring is immense, and treasured by patients and colleagues alike.

“Volunteers are a very important part of the hospital community.”

Mr Cameron says he wants to rebuild Britain by harnessing “people power” – getting volunteers to run post offices, libraries, transport services and shape housing projects. The idea has been criticised by some as they think the mentality of the British public is too apathetic to actually give up their time and take over running institutions.

However I think if the group of volunteers at Ipswich Hospital are anything to go by, it proves that there are people willing to go that extra mile for a good cause.

Mike Brookes, chairman of Ipswich Hospital, added: “We would be such a poorer place without our fantastic volunteers. They each do an amazing job often behind the scenes, but always making a big, big difference to the lives of people in hospital and to staff.”

n If you are interested in volunteering opportunities at the hospital, call 01473 702905.