The outstanding work of a voluntary service, which provides practical help and companionship to people with long-term and life-threatening illnesses, has been recognised by Buckingham Palace.
St Nicholas Hospice Care’s Hospice Neighbours scheme has won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service - the highest award given to local volunteer groups across the UK.
The service, which was set up in 2011, helps between 120-150 people at any given time and relies on the support of around 165 volunteers to provide companionship to patients and to assist them with household tasks.
It started as a vision of hospice chief executive, Barbara Gale.
She said: “Using volunteers in people’s homes is quite unusual in the UK and many hospices from across the country have come to learn from our model.
“Winning the Queen’s Award is a wonderful accolade for everyone involved.”
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferer Joe Buttery started receiving bereavement counselling from the hospice after his wife of 62 years died in 2013. He was then referred to Hospice Neighbours.
The 74-year-old, of Fornham All Saints, said: “It’s made all the difference because I know I’m going out every Thursday. It’s made it worth while and gives me something to live for.”
Joe’s Hospice Neighbour, Rick Shepperson, said he joined the service after retiring from teaching at Culford School.
Once a week he and Joe go on trips out, be it shopping in town, feeding Joe’s photography or model making hobbies or visiting Lackford Lakes.
“I had no idea how two way it would be,” said Rick of the enjoyment he gets from spending time with Joe.
Patricia Francis, of Lawshall, who has advanced MS, began seeing her Hospice Neighbour, Jacqui Rosental, after visiting the hospice day centre around four years ago.
“We’ve become quite close, we’re good friends now,” she said, adding that it had given her ‘a whole new outlook’.
Her husband, John, said the award was ‘very well deserved’ and would show other organisations what they can do and how much it is appreciated.
“It’s made a difference to ‘Pat’,” he said. “That married up with her counselling work has given her confidence and a feeling of being worth while. It’s also given her this wonderful friendship with her Hospice Neighbour.”
Kay Newman, Hospice Neighbour co-ordinator, said: “It’s not about the award, it’s about the recognition. They (volunteers) give up their free time - sometimes only an hour a week – and it makes such a big difference to the patients.”
She added: “They go out of their way to try to make the patient feel as normal as possible - the little things make a big difference.”
Mrs Gale said: “We talk about people in the final chapters of their lives but it’s also about helping people live - it’s not about dying and death, it’s about people having a better quality of life.”
Anyone interested in getting involved with the service is asked to contact Ms Newman on 01284 719638.