“Adding life to days, when days cannot be added to life.” This is the phrase that is displayed on St Luke’s Hospice’s front webpage. It is a poignant summary of the local charity’s tireless efforts in palliative (end of life) care.

The empowering services and expert treatment are only partially funded by the NHS. An incredible 60% is funded completely by generous donors and tireless volunteers. I attended a “Volunteers Hub” during half term to gain more of an insight.

Accustomed to rising at noon and dozing in early hours of the day, my trek to Kenton at 9:30 am came as a bit of a shock to the sleepy system. When I arrived, however, I was met by an exquisite half-timbered building towering over luscious gardens. Everything was peacefully serene and nothing like the dingy and depressing hospice one might expect. I was led to the meeting room by some very friendly volunteer staff. The volunteering team, Helen and Kala, allowed the panel to introduce themselves. The majority were senior citizens who had already dedicated many years to the hospice. As a relatively new shop recruit, I listened in awe to all of the jobs on offer, from volunteer receptionists to volunteer drivers for elderly patients.

The first half of the day consisted of some general point of admin and suggestions by volunteers for improvement. New staff members, such as a wellbeing manager specialising in bereavement support, were announced. The number of attendees for an annual volunteer’s week was apparently dwindling, which Helen and Kala were concerned about. It soon came to light that the venue was inaccessible to many of the elderly volunteers, as it was far away from a bus route. Small victories such as these made me realise the true importance of communications within a team. Had it not been for collaborative efforts such as these, the problem would never have been resolved.

Later on in the event, Greg Jones, the newly appointed head of retail, came to introduce himself and tell his story. He articulated the unique struggles of marketing in a charity setting. Items are individually priced by managers, for example, which would be unheard of in a Zara. Charity shops also don’t know the stock they will receive or the quality of it, something which conventional retailers take great measures to ensure. With a background in volunteering himself, Jones had always been fascinated by giving back to the community. Going from liquor and wine store, Majestic, to charity shops such as Crisis and St Luke’s was an eye-opening experience for him.

There was a myriad of points that arose that I would never have thought about. For example, many aspects of our shops require renovation and funding. What I failed to understand, however, was that all the money used for the shops was less money used for the patients. In Majestic, Jones could justify any decision to improve the aesthetics of the shops, whereas in St Luke’s such investments could not be taken lightly. It was clear from his passion that he is committed to the cause and truly believes “retail is detail”. Many interesting discussions arose from the floor, including the issue of single-use plastics in the shop and bettering visuals with the help of university media students or any creative volunteers. The exchange would look good on their CVs and also help the hospice in terms of renovation.

I spoke with Anne Kangao, a volunteer receptionist about her experience and what her favourite aspect of her role is. “Knowing that I’m helping people,” she says with a smile, “I want to make the hospice experience a better one and I want to change perceptions more than anything. I want to welcome not just patients, but also their families.”

Overall, I found my experience extremely heart-warming and fruitful. I learnt about all the different roles that volunteers play and how instrumental they are in keeping the hospice alive. The diversity of them extends far beyond shop volunteers only. It was profoundly eye opening and I recommend everyone volunteer at least once in their life.

By Gaazal Dhungana