Memories of a volunteer: Over 20 years service at Harrogate District Hospital

Left to right: Volunteer Co-ordinator, Fiona Tomlinson and volunteers Vivienne Stone, Rachel Watson, Gill Tomlinson, Peternella Clarkson and Ruth Raspin.
Left to right: Volunteer Co-ordinator, Fiona Tomlinson and volunteers Vivienne Stone, Rachel Watson, Gill Tomlinson, Peternella Clarkson and Ruth Raspin.

Five volunteers at Harrogate District NHS Foundation Trust (HDFT) have reflected on the privileges and responsibilities of more than two decades dedicated to helping others.

Gill Tomlinson, Vivienne Stone, Rachel Watson, Ruth Raspin and Peternella Clarkson, have each clocked more than 20 years voluntary service at the Trust, with some of them starting just months into their retirement.

After leaving her home in Germany in 1961, Peternella worked as a physiotherapist in Otley, but said it wasn’t long after leaving that job that she found herself back near patients.

She said: “ I think I was three months retired when my best friend Enid said ‘you must get back into care, you are used to patients’. She was an OT with me in Otley for 20 years and she said ‘come on we need to be volunteering’.”

But for all the volunteers, the key difference between their working career and their volunteering is having time.

Peternella said: “When I was a physio in Otley it was different. I didn’t have the time I have now to actually talk to the patient.

She added: That’s really our purpose, when we sit down with a cup of tea or coffee as a volunteer, if there’s a patient sitting there you say are you going to a clinic or have you been to a clinic, and you end up listening to their life story, but maybe that’s what they need to do, to talk to someone.”

For Rachel, who used to be a teacher but now volunteers in the hospital chaplaincy, being a different face to talk to is just as important.

She said: It’s the actual contact with the patient, somebody different. Some of them are quite embarrassed if they don’t want communion.

“But I’ll say it’s fine, how are you today and they open up a bit, a lot of them say thank you for coming and thank you for being a different face, and that’s very important.

“They get so used to the nursing staff the doctors, the cleaners the carers and I’m not one of the family so I’m a totally different face.”

But volunteering comes with its own rewards - as Peternella put it: “You get 100 thank you’s a day!”

Ruth added: “My husband was the headmaster of a prep school with boarders, and it was our life, he did it 24 hours a day. It was lovely just to be able to get away from work, because I was still working all the time. Just to be able to do something different.

With over 20 years of experience, the volunteers have some unforgettable memories too.

Gill said: “I had just sold my business as a travel agent, and I was looking in the Harrogate Advertiser and saw a photograph of a lot of volunteers and I thought that could be interesting, so that’s how I got involved.

“When I first started I was in the Day Surgery unit making tea and coffee and toast for the patients who had just had an operation but they had got to wait a couple of hours before they could go home and they were in a lounge there.

“That would have been around 1998. But I can always remember one day in this television room in 2001, when those two planes in New York flew into the World Trade Centre.

“We had the television on and all of a sudden it stopped and they said ‘what have they done, what’s happened’.

“The plane had gone into the skyscraper and then they put the camera onto the skyscraper and then the second plane went into it as we were all watching it, I can just see all the patients’ faces now, I’ll never forget that.”

Today, Volunteer Services Manager for HDFT, Fiona Tomlinson, manages 605 volunteers ranging in age from 16 to 93, who she believes are the ‘best’ volunteers in the country.

She said: “I am so proud of our volunteer service, I know there are colleagues around the country who struggle to recruit volunteers, Harrogate has never ever had this problem, because of the people who live in this area, they are genuinely giving people who want to give their time.

“When I say we’ve got the best volunteers I really mean it. They give their time selflessly, we’re so fortunate, and they do make the difference to patients, there’s no two ways about it.”

When asked how much longer they will volunteer for, the group of five chanted: “As long as possible!”