It’s no exaggeration to say that St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth couldn’t deliver its crucial and compassionate end of life care without the support of its army of big-hearted volunteers who give their time and talents for free. This Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) St Luke’s is saluting them all with a huge, heartfelt thank you, and new CEO Christina Quinn has been out and about meeting a few of these very special people in person.
The charity has an amazing 668 regular volunteers – 464 of them in the charity’s shops across Plymouth, West Devon, the South Hams and East Cornwall, sorting donations, steaming and hanging clothing, creating displays and serving customers.
Christina’s whistlestop tour took in three popular stores, where she got a feel for who St Luke’s retail volunteers are and why they choose to do what they do.
She says: “We get so much from the volunteers, but what is lovely is that they all said how much they get from it as well and they have real pride in supporting the vital work of St Luke’s.
“Visiting the Plymstock, Elburton and Transit Way shops it was clear how much the store managers appreciate and value their volunteers, as we all do too. None of us can do this without them.”
During her visits, Christina heard some heartening stories from individual volunteers, each with unique backgrounds and experiences but with the same aim in mind.
A volunteer with special niche knowledge can be a real boon to St Luke’s shop managers. Barbara Daniel used to have an antiques shop on the Barbican and she would sometimes come in to St Luke’s to help value jewellery donations.
After she and her husband closed their business, Barbara began volunteering twice a week at our Plymstock shop where she’s now the resident jewellery expert. Using her keen eye, she takes a good look at items when they arrive, spotting anything that could potentially be quite valuable and doing her homework to make sure the price is right to raise as much as possible to support St Luke’s end of life care.
Barbara is delighted to use her expertise and has identified a few choice pieces that have sold for between £400 and £500.
She says: “I think most volunteers feel like it’s a social occasion to come here and meet people. It keeps the brain ticking over as you get older. I certainly missed it during the lockdown.”
Barbara also loves hunting down bargains in St Luke’s shops. When her son got married recently, both she and her daughter found their glamorous outfits for the big day in one of the charity’s stores.
They each discovered almost new dress and jacket ensembles that would originally have cost hundreds of pounds. Of course, generous Barbara donated hers straight back to St Luke’s after she’d worn it!
Volunteering for St Luke’s is especially poignant for Julie Lukehurst, a recent recruit at the Elburton shop. Hospital doctors told her that her cancer was incurable and that the best thing for her would be palliative care at St Luke’s specialist unit at Turnchapel.
“I was offered a bed but said I wouldn’t be going there because I wasn’t dying,” recalls Julie. Four years later she is in remission, managing her illness with medication and pacing her energy through good and bad days. “I think it’s fantastic that St Luke’s is there. That’s why I want to give something back.
“I’ve always worked but couldn’t when I was unwell and I missed it. I moved to a little cottage just down the road from the Elburton shop and used to come in as a customer. One day Rachel the manager asked me if I’d like to volunteer.”
Julie is now quickly learning the ropes volunteering twice a week, sorting stock and serving customers, and she’s mastering the till, even though she’s a self-confessed technophobe.
“I get more pleasure out of being here than I do anywhere. Everyone here is so lovely and friendly and we’re all here for the same reason – to make money for care. But it’s also a social thing. I could easily stay at home seeing nobody,” says Julie.
Darren King is a carer for his wife, so he’s unable to go into paid employment. But he loves volunteering at St Luke’s Transit Way shop, just five minutes’ walk from home so he can run back if he’s needed. Working in the shop gives him a sense of purpose and a break from being in the house all the time.
“I just love being here. This is my baby, and the people are like family to me, especially Steve, the manager. He makes work a pleasure.
“The satisfaction you get when you put something through the till and you know it’s going to such a good cause is amazing. There’s no better feeling than clearing £1,000 and knowing that will pay for someone to be cared for at home – it’s a goal we all set for ourselves. We all take pride in the store and it’s really rewarding.”
On the day Christina visited Darren was working alongside a team of fellow volunteers including regulars Mel, Pam and Sue, all supervised by manager Steve Evans. He says it takes a minimum of 10 volunteers to help run the large Transit Way clothing shop and the adjacent bric-a-brac store. There’s a constant stream of donated items being brought in by customers, many on their way to the supermarket next door, and they all need checking, sorting and pricing.
Christina was impressed and humbled by her shop visits. She says: “Every single individual makes a unique contribution towards our shared goal to provide the very best holistic care for people with terminal illness at the end of their lives and compassionate support for their loved ones.
“Barbara, Julie and Darren are all doing a fantastic job and it’s so great to know that they enjoy what they do and get satisfaction from knowing they are giving something back.”
St Luke’s is always looking for more volunteers to help in our shops for a few hours or more each week. These are the stores that are currently in urgent need of more helping hands: Western Approach/Toys ’R’ Us, Shabby Chic on the Barbican, Sugar Mill, Drake and New George Street in the city centre, Plymstock Bookshop, Tavistock and Launceston.
If you have some time to spare and would like to get involved in a worthwhile cause working alongside like-minded people, find out more and get in touch via our volunteering page or email email@example.com.