Many years ago, a lady who lived across the road from Sandie and Don used to look after Helen, who Helen House was named after, and Sandie used to pop over to see her. Also, a work colleague of Sandie’s had a child who died at Helen House. So when she retired she wanted to volunteer for Helen & Douglas House which was 11 years ago. Then 6 years ago when Don retired he started volunteering for them too.
Sandie and Don both volunteer for a day week each in the office and gardening. In 2017 Sandie and Don were awarded a Certificate of Honour by Oxford City Council for their volunteering work and also met Camilla, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, when she visited the hospice.
Sandie and Don have used many of their skills to help the charity over the years including computer and risk assessment skills in volunteering, manning phones at the Radiothon, taking videos and photos, baking with patients and for fundraising and social events as well as becoming Home Volunteers for a Helen & Douglas House family in Abingdon.
As keen gardeners, twice a month Don and Sandie help maintain Tania’s garden in Abingdon, whose two daughters have been cared for at Helen & Douglas House. Amana is 13 years old and has spina bifida and has been visiting the hospice for respite care since she was 22 months old. Tania was also guardian of Imogen, who was severely disabled and visited the hospice for respite care from 1 year old and sadly died in 2016 at the age of 13.
Sandie approached various local organisations for free gardening equipment from Bosch and 30% discount by Notcutts. In April 2016 Tania applied to the BBC Programme ‘Instant Gardener’ for help updating her garden. Sandie and Don spent the day with Danny Clarke and Helen Skelton digging, planting and painting Tania’s garden.
Sandie said “Since volunteering at Helen & Douglas House we have seen first-hand more about the families it cares for and how the hospice deals with these in a practical but caring manner and how much this means to the families. It is such a light and airy the place with special equipment and facilities for patients and families. The atmosphere is very much the upbeat, life enhancing approach taken by the hospice, rather than the traditional image of a depressing, sad place.”
“There is much enjoyment to be had in being part of an invaluable organisation with such a positive approach to life. We get more from volunteering that we put in! The people at the hospice are amazing – we have made many friends.”
Why volunteer for Helen & Douglas House?Helen & Douglas House relies on volunteers at its shops, at the hospice and to help families who visit the hospice at home. The total number of hours volunteered last year was 128,200 which was worth over £1m to the charity which helps local families with terminally ill children and young adults.
Tania said “As a Helen House parent, I can’t thank Helen & Douglas House enough for the lovely gardening volunteers we’ve had over the past few years.”
“When my daughter was at her sickest, it simply wasn’t possible to do any work at all on our garden. If I left her inside, I risked missing life threatening seizures or choking episodes. If I brought her out with me, the noise of the mower or simply the smells of fresh pruning would cause her to panic or struggle to breathe.”
“I’d escape into the garden for a few minutes here and there when we had nursing cover, or when I could be reasonably sure she was stable for a few minutes. I’d feel overwhelmed at the knee high grass, the weeds and the amount of work which needed to be done.”
“And then along came Sandie and Don. And our lawns were mown, our beds weeded and planted up, everything trimmed, tidied, organised and beautified. And then, when I had a few minutes to myself I could just sit and breathe, be calm and gather strength, ready to walk back into the house and deal with the next medical emergency.”
“Life isn’t quite as hectic these days. But my other daughter, also a Helen House child, has increasingly complex medical needs of her own. And knowing that our gardeners keep everything outside ticking over for us means I can concentrate on juggling everything inside, and let the garden remain a place of rest for us all.”
Helen & Douglas House is currently looking for shop volunteers so pop into your local charity shop to find out more about the great opportunities they may have. You can find out more about other volunteering opportunities here.