Volunteers’ Week runs from 1-7 June and is a celebration of the contribution millions of people make across the UK through volunteering. At Royal Star & Garter, our dedicated group of volunteers help out across the three Homes, assisting on outings, helping with activities, and keeping residents company.
Here Frank Hughes, whose voluntary work at Royal Star & Garter was commended at the Birmingham International Tattoo, discusses the joy he gets from helping in Solihull, keeping in contact despite the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and an impending adoption!
I hadn’t thought about volunteering while I was working. The opportunity to retire came out of the blue, and it never crossed my mind. I was 59 and I didn’t want to go back into full-time employment. But I wanted to do something to fill my time, which was purposeful and useful. So I started looking into volunteering.
I wasn’t sure what area to go into, and started researching. When I saw Royal Star & Garter I thought they would be quite nice to go to. I’d never really had to deal with people I didn’t know on a one-to-one basis, and being out of my comfort zone felt like a challenge. I thought I should give it a try. The military connection also appealed to me, as my father served in the Second World War, and by grandfather in the First World War.
I’ve now been a volunteer at Royal Star & Garter for nearly 10 years. I help with activities, escorting on trips out and befriending residents. I have built a special friendship with one resident, whose family live overseas. He has very limited eyesight, and before lockdown, I spent quite a lot of time with him in his room helping rebuild his photograph album. His old one had fallen apart, so we got a new one and re-did it, putting the old photographs back in. Because of his eyesight, I would describe each photo, and it stirred up old memories he had forgotten. We had a nice chat about the photographs, and it was great to be able to share that special time with him. I also help him write birthday or Christmas cards, or picking him up small items from the shops.
Lockdown has meant I can’t see him in the Home, but I call him on the phone twice a week, and we have long talks. We chat away about various things. I know his sense of humour and we have a bit of a laugh. He told me recently that he needed shaving razors, so I picked some up for him and left it outside the Home for staff to take to him. Because his family are overseas, he told me he wanted me to be regarded as his family. So now we’re joking that he’s going to formally adopt me!
It’s important to the residents to have volunteers in the Home. We’re a different face for them to see and talk to, a different personality for them to engage with. We get involved with so many activities from arts and crafts to quizzes, and are able to take the time to chat to residents and find out more about their remarkable lives.
I get a great deal of satisfaction out of volunteering. I hope in some way we are helping the ladies and gentlemen living there, we want them to enjoy their time, and the volunteers and staff try to make this happen. I would – and do – recommend volunteering. It’s nice to help other people, and a privilege to help the veterans at Royal Star & Garter.