Evelyn Blumenthal explains how her work as a volunteer has given her life purpose following her retirement.

Hello. I am Evelyn and would like to tell you about my journey in volunteering at the Royal Free. It started when I retired from the patient and family support team at Marie Curie Hospice Hampstead almost three years ago.

Why did I decide to volunteer in the hospital? I know that for me retirement was not going out for coffee and lunches. I needed structure and meaning in my life. My association with the hospital goes back more years than I would like to admit. I did one of my social work training placements in the hospital. Since then I have been an inpatient and outpatient and wanted to give back something to a place that has given me such good care and an important and enjoyable start to my career.

I chose to work as a dementia companion on the wards and, after some training and shadowing a very experienced and respected dementia companion, John, I started out on my own.

Before lockdown I spent two mornings a week on the ward and was fortunate to have two regular wards on which I worked. This meant that I got to know staff well and saw some of the patients and families for a long time building up a good relationship with them.

Although my main purpose was to speak to patients with dementia and/or their relatives I always approached every patient to ask whether they would like a little chat to pass the time of day because the hospital day can be very long and boring. Some days I would see many patients, others not so many because they were asleep, or did not feel up to talking. If I finished early on the ward I would go down to the office and see what other wards needed visiting or if there was any other patient work to be done.

Sometimes I would be asked if a new volunteer could shadow me which I really enjoyed doing. From the shadowing I had volunteers wanting to continue to work with me and so developed a regular Tuesday partnership with another volunteer and did the same on Thursdays with another one. This developed well and I did suggest to the volunteering department that this was something to think about as it sometimes was easier for patients than just a one-to-one.

Apart from working on the wards I spent one afternoon a week in the Macmillan Advice and Support Centre. Work was varied. It could be giving emotional support, signposting patients to the right service, or just a general chat and ensuring the centre and ward were stocked with the Macmillan booklets.

Apart from volunteering for the Royal Free Charity I was invited to join Therapy Partners, an initiative looking at getting more voice for the patient and for the patient to be able to become more involved in their care by working in partnership with professionals and helping to design leaflets and look at new initiatives. This group is extremely stimulating and we are all learning from each other. Different projects have branched out from this group and I have given joint presentations with a therapist to sub-executive board committees and one to the CEO’s monthly briefing. I am also involved in What Matters – Patient Experience Committee.

Since lockdown, which has meant not being able to go into the hospital as a volunteer, I have been involved in Check and Chat, a telephone support system for isolated and lonely outpatients organised by the support hub I have also been phoning some of the more isolated volunteers and, through the psychology department, been doing bereavement counselling with staff.

To sum up, I find volunteering very worthwhile and rewarding. It has opened up new paths for me which I find exciting and stimulating. I have felt privileged and humbled by some of the stories I have heard and hope that in some little way my involvement is helpful to patients and their relatives. I know from my point of view I get a lot from doing the work and am grateful to the Royal Free Charity for giving me the above opportunities. It is what has kept me sane during these difficult Covid-19 times.