North London Hospice Programme

A community volunteering programme has been part of North London Hospice since they started delivering services in 1984.
Supporting patients' families and carers

How and why we began the community volunteering programme

A community volunteering programme has been part of North London Hospice since we started delivering services in 1984.  In fact before we had a building for people to volunteer within, one way in which volunteers were included in supporting our patients and their families was to visit patients in their own homes.

The nature of those visits has changed over the years, partly as a response to the needs of patients, but sometimes we have been constrained by the demands of our funders. For example, at one stage the community volunteering programme was funded by Macmillan (this happened soon after I started to work at North London Hospice), at this time we had 3 very clearly delineated roles – sitter, befriender and respite volunteer, with very clear guidelines and restrictions around what the volunteers could and could not do.

We found (like many other hospices providing a programme of community support) that some of the volunteers were ‘breaking the rules’ – for example, we found that sometimes volunteers were taking patients out into the community and not just sitting at home with them, we found that sometimes volunteers were popping in to visit outside of their designated times, we found that sometimes volunteers were undertaking practical or domestic tasks to support the patient, including doing some basic shopping – whether or not there was any reimbursement of expenditure.

On reflection we realised that the relationships needed to be more fluid, for example, someone who is a befriender may occasionally need to sit with someone who is not well enough to be as responsive and engaged as one would generally expect from a befriending type relationship.

More recently we have become a Compassionate Neighbours adopter. North London Hospice has a strategic priority for improvement around being more accessible to minority groups, we already had a community volunteering programme, we already had accredited training in emotional resilience, we already had a model of supporting volunteers in reflective practice and we were also aiming to increase footfall into our Health and Wellbeing Service by connecting with people who traditionally did not meet our triage criteria.

However, again like many hospices, we are very protective of patients and volunteers, to take a leap into a light touch project such as this was easier for some people to accept knowing it was in partnership with other hospices.

The challenges we faced

Some of the challenges that we faced included:

  • Internally this demands a change of culture and attitude, encouraging volunteers to be autonomous and act independently responding to the situations they find.
  • Adapting to the St Joseph’s Hospice model as we are different organisations with different priorities, strategic and charitable objectives. We also operate in different areas with different populations, and different agencies surrounding us each offering different services.
  • Because Compassionate Neighbours is so new it is difficult to describe and thus bring people on board
  • Other organisations are wary of working in partnership, especially when what we are trying to achieve is less clear
  • We currently have a very different attitude to the Compassionate Neighbours to the rest of the volunteers within the organisation

How we have overcome these challenges

We have very clearly delineated the boundaries around the Compassionate Neighbours project, and have involved a number of people internally as well as externally in shaping and describing this project. We are making sure that we are not treading on the toes of local organisations providing anything that is remotely similar. When attending meetings to promote what we are doing we ensure that one of the Community Volunteers or Compassionate Neighbours comes too. We publicise our successes.

The benefits we have seen

The Community Volunteers have enabled our patients to remain in their preferred place of care, and preferred place of death, and for the people around those patients to know that they are being supported by their local community at a difficult time in their lives.

As far as Compassionate Neighbours is concerned it is very early days, however, we currently have a couple of people who had previously been very socially isolated who have received training and although not matched to anyone they are coming to our coffees and get togethers.

It has created a shift in thinking within the organisation, and the Board of Trustees have recently agreed to fund three community development roles to help improve our relationship with the community around us, as well as an admin role to help with recording and reporting.

Our advice to others

  • The scoping is really important. Find out what is already happening locally and how to get on board with them.
  • It is a mistake to think that because something has worked well somewhere else it can easily be transposed to somewhere else.
  • Work with existing groups and projects – we are training the volunteers at Healthwatch so that they will be more attuned to working in this way in relation to whatever it is that they are doing.
  • If starting from scratch make sure that any targets that funders want you to meet measure impact rather than quantitative data.
  • It takes longer to grow this than you may think (or hope).

For more information please contact Debbie Usiskin, Volunteer Engagement Manager.

What does hospice care mean to you?