Warrington and Halton Hospitals

My Volunteering Story: Jan Hare

My name is Jan Hare and I am a retired primary school teacher. I have been a volunteer on the Forget me Not ward for four months. This is a ward which specialises in patients with dementia.

If someone had said to me a year ago that this is what I would be doing, I’d have been very surprised. After retiring I continued to do supply teaching although the work was gradually drying up. At Christmas time I decided to make a few new resolutions for the new year, ones I could hopefully stick to! Of course I picked the usual ones such as lose seven pounds, eat less cake and take up power walking. Don’t ask me where the next one came from. It really just appeared in my head and it was of course to volunteer at the hospital.

So on the first of January I sent off my request for information about volunteering and then by the beginning of June became a volunteer, wearing my cheery turquoise shirt and rather ugly but comfortable black shoes!

As a volunteer the choice of roles is of course limited to what is available, so all of you would be volunteers who visualised wiping a neurosurgeons brow or helping to deliver a baby think again!

Once I’d completed the process of becoming a volunteer I scrolled through the opportunities available on the portal. The Forget me not ward stuck in my mind partly because I had visited the ward eighteen months earlier with Rock Choir. We had had a lovely afternoon singing to some of the patients. I remembered being charmed by the warm atmosphere of the ward and the friendliness of the nursing staff. An opportunity was available on the ward as a helper for Tracey, the activities coordinator. I realised that my skills as a primary school teacher might be helpful in this role.

And so it began. I work just one day a week from 11 to 3.30. I have a short meeting with Tracey in which she talks about the general plan for the morning and afternoon events and then we begin. Sometimes the morning is spent in one to ones. This means working with a patient on an individual basis, trying to find some way of stimulating them through either conversation or an activity. This can be difficult on this ward but for that reason successes are all the more rewarding. In a conversation my aim is to make the patient feel that they have the confidence to speak as an equal. Sadly, it is not just memories that these patients have lost. Most of them have lost most of the spoken vocabulary that we all take for granted.

With the help of google images on tablets I have enjoyed chatting to George about driving tanks in the second world war. Kevin was able to talk about working on an aircraft carrier in the 50s and Harry reminisced about travelling to Wales on his motorbike when he was a young man.

Group activities, although demanding can also be extremely rewarding. Just yesterday I had a lovely morning doing a quiz with a group of five patients. Of course we didn’t stick to the plan! That’s not how it works on this ward. Instead we moved on to chat about school days and first jobs. I was fascinated to hear about Betty, who had been a singer in Liverpool in the 40s with The Blue Domino Band.

Afternoon sessions can be physical in which we play chair tennis or chair netball, or they can be art based or memory based such as the afternoon spent looking at and talking about artefacts connected with wash day.

The most rewarding part of volunteering for me is the occasional successes with these patients, the times when just for a moment the cruel disease seems to leave them and allows their true selves to appear.

To anyone who was considering volunteering I would say just go for it. The process is quite a long one and at times fairly demanding but of course it has to be. The NHS is wonderful with extremely high standards. As a volunteer we have to meet these standards in order to become a tiny part of this great institution.

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