It was love at first sight for newly retired teacher Barbara Derham when she visited Demelza’s Sittingbourne hospice on one of its very first open days in 1998. The hospice had opened its doors and welcomed in the local community to explain the care and services that would be on offer at the newly built children’s hospice.
“I wasn’t particularly looking for a volunteering role at that stage. I’d not long retired and I was busy looking after my grandson. But walking through the front doors on my first visit to Demelza, I was bowled over by the love, care and compassion you could just feel from the team and the building itself. There were no children there at that stage, but the staff – there’s something very special about them - welcomed me in like an old friend and I knew I wanted to be a part of this family.”
Barbara signed up to volunteer once a week on the housekeeping team. However, on the morning that Barbara was due to start at Demelza, she received a phone call to let her know that the kitchen needed help. One day in the kitchen turned to five years volunteering as a cook. Each Tuesday Barbara would arrive just after 8am to start preparing home cooked meals, snacks and treats for the families staying at the hospice.
From the kitchen, Barbara moved across to the care team as a care volunteer working with the children that visited the hospice, often taking siblings on outings and supporting bereaved families.
“There was always such lovely feedback from the families I worked with, Demelza gave them hope and strength in their darkest moments,” explains Barbara. “It’s a lifeline – a chance to receive vital support and guidance, and to know that someone really cares about your child and your situation. It’s so important to our Demelza families.”
Over the years, Demelza has grown and we are able to care for more families in more locations, but Barbara sees a constant feature across the last 20 years: “Care, love and support - that is the heart of Demelza. They are the warm arms that wrap around the families with children facing terminal illness. That has always been there and will always continue to be there.”
Sadly, Barbara will leave Demelza this month after an inspirational 20 years of volunteering: “I’ll take with me the wonderful friendships I have made here. I became part of the Demelza family very quickly and I will always feel like I am a part of this remarkable place.”
Barbara is one of more than 1,000 volunteers who kindly give their time to Demelza every year.
Lynne Clark, Head of Voluntary Services, said: "A heartfelt thank you to Barbara, on behalf of us all here at Demelza ,for her continued support and devotion over the last 20 years. The generosity of all of our volunteers is vital in helping Demelza to continue providing terminally ill children and their families with much needed care and support.”
Could you donate some of your time to Demelza? Find out more about our exciting volunteering opportunities.