After official recognition, volunteers become a highly regarded part of hospital life

Volunteers Chloe Sanderson and Laura Backhouse
Volunteers Chloe Sanderson and Laura Backhouse

Staff and patients at Chesterfield Royal Hospital currently benefit from an army of unpaid help from a team of volunteers more than 100 strong.

They ‘meet and greet’ at reception, sell treats from the mobile trolleys and some even drive the ‘Royal Rider’, transporting visitors around the sprawling hospital site.

'Meeter and greeter', Roy Millington, 67

'Meeter and greeter', Roy Millington, 67

And, over the next few years, volunteer manager Richard Ball hopes to expand the team, making the volunteers an even bigger part of the fabric of the hospital than they currently are.

He says: “When I came here two years ago the hospital didn’t have a proper volunteering system going.

“There were 11 when I started and the first thing I did was to get them properly recognised by the hospital for the work they did.

“Voluntary services hasn’t always had the position it should have had but here right from the beginning I felt I had the full support of the top brass.”

Richard Ball is the hospitals voluntary services coordinator

Richard Ball is the hospitals voluntary services coordinator

The hospital has 126 volunteers at the moment but Richard hopes to increase the size of the team to between 250 and 300 over the next few years.

For every pound the programme costs to run, the hospital gets six back in return in unpaid work, making it a ‘no-brainer’ for any hard-pressed chief executive.

“I currently get about 20 to 30 applications a month and there isn’t really one personality type,” Richard explains.

“We say we take people aged between 16 and 90 but really there is no upper age limit.

“When I arrived I found one 90-year-old lady who had been volunteering in bereavement services for almost 30 years.

“She’s actually just retired and when she did I tried to nominate her for a Queen’s Award but she flatly refused it.”

As to why people volunteer, Richard says it can be for any number of reasons.

He said: “We get a lot of elderly or mature people who want to feel that they are still worth something and who enjoy the social aspects of the role.

“Then we have people who want to ‘give something back’ to the service because they have had someone in hospital themselves.

“And we also get a lot of students wanting to get some experience as well.”

Many of these students come from the health and social care course at Chesterfield College.

Students who Richard has come across during his time working with volunteers have gone on to be doctors, nurses and midwives.

Speaking to some of the volunteers you do get a sense of the wide ranging backgrounds they come from.

Chloe Sanderson, 32, is mentoring one of the Chesterfield College students for Richard.

“I volunteer because I wanted to give something back from when the hospital has taken care of me and my family.

“Also it’s good preparation for when I go back into the world of work later this year and maybe a career change - possibly into healthcare.”

The volunteer Chloe is mentoring, 17-year-old Laura Backhouse, is studying nursing at Chesterfield College.

“It is a good way to see all the different wards and see where I’d like to work,” explains Laura.

“Although it isn’t work I am getting really good experience of seeing what goes on here.”

At the hospital’s swanky new reception, meeter and greeter, Roy Millington, 67, has just retired.

“The reason I volunteer is because I want to put something back into the community - I find it very rewarding.

“Standing here I also get to meet a lot of people - which I really enjoy.

“Some of the people I bump into here I haven’t seen for 30 years.”

Richard says the hospital also has a number of volunteers who suffer from mental and physical disabilities, something which is particularly close to his heart.

“I got involved in volunteering as a result of a serious health scare I had 13 years ago,” Richard explains.

“I was in a coma for three months and when I was getting back on my feet afterwards I started volunteering at Derby hospital, delivering newspapers on the wards.

“So I know about disability having experienced it and I think I have an empathy with how people feel.

“I also know what it feels like when people say here’s a chance because you grab it.”

If you are interested in volunteering at Chesterfield Royal or would like to find out more email crhft.volunteer@nhs.net or call 01246 516348.