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Why I signed up as an Emotional Support Volunteer

When someone enters our care, their loved ones become part of the hospice too. And when a patient sadly dies, St Barnabas provides bereavement support. Here, Corinne – who volunteers with our Patient and Family Support team – explains why her role means so much to her

Corrine in a garden smiling into the camera

I am a former lecturer in health sciences, and I first got to know St Barnabas House when I was working on my PhD about bereavement.

I approached them to help me recruit some participants, which they very kindly did. Because they were so great, I always said to myself that when I had some time, I’d volunteer at the hospice.

When I stopped working, I saw that they were recruiting bereavement support volunteers, which was a great match for my previous experience.

Getting started

The training was excellent and very comprehensive. We studied bereavement theory and the impact of bereavement. We also learned some counselling skills and listening skills – some of which I had done before, but I think if you hadn’t, the training would have been ample preparation for the role. Different people from the hospice came to tell us about their various roles, so that we understood everything the hospice offers. We also visited an undertaker and had a tour of the crematorium. All those questions that people have, we were able to ask. The training also looked at the importance of looking after ourselves whilst working with our clients.

Our initial training is supplemented by regular training sessions and updates which help to maintain and enhance our skills.

The support we receive is excellent. It’s very well structured and you get to know your supervisor so well. You can go to them with anything, and you have monthly supervisions which keep you on track and stop you feeling overwhelmed.

Providing a safe space

We generally go out to visit people at home, where we offer them dedicated time to talk about their worries, fears and emotions. It’s often very helpful, because people don’t want to talk about these things with family members when they are grieving too. We’re not counsellors but we use counselling skills to allow them to express things in a safe space.

It is very rewarding to be able to offer someone that time to talk about whatever they want, or just to cry with somebody without feeling uncomfortable. It’s a real privilege that people let you into their homes and share these difficult emotions. When I drive away after a session, it is very sad but at the same time I feel quite positive that I’ve been able to provide that safe space.

Sharing stories

Over the past three or four years I’ve been able to support 35-40 people – during the pandemic, it was good to be able to carry on that support by phone and Zoom. I usually work with three clients at any one time and see them for an hour each week.

Emotional Support Volunteers and Community Companions were invited to do some extra training so we could help patients make audio recordings through the Blackbird Project. They might be sharing their life story, some special memories, singing a meaningful song or revealing a much-loved family recipe.

Recently, I completed my first recording with a lady who wanted to record messages for her grandchildren. It was very emotional and poignant for her, but she was happy to get it done and her sons were delighted.

I would like to see more people sign up as Emotional Support Volunteers so we can offer even more support to bereaved families. I love my volunteer work at St Barnabas. It certainly adds something to my life. Because I’ve had lots of experience working in mental health, I feel like it would have been a shame just to stop – it’s lovely to still have something to offer.

Could you join the team?

We're always on the lookout for new volunteers!

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