We recently caught up with John, who has been volunteering with Demelza since 2017. Originally volunteering in our Eltham hospice, John now assists the practical support team, acting as a driver for families who rely on our services.
Read more about John's volunteering journey at Demelza:
“I’ve been volunteering for Demelza for nearly 5 years, since 2017. I’m retired, and for a few years I spent time travelling the world, seeing new countries; then, at a certain point, I realised I wanted to start giving back some of the good that I’ve been lucky enough to experience in my own life. I looked at a few different charities… I don’t remember quite how I heard about Demelza, but once I’d listened to their mission and seen what they were doing I was really keen to get involved.
"I started out at the reception desk at the Eltham hospice, which was an eye-opener to some of the amazing work Demelza is doing. Obviously sitting at a desk, there are some days that will be slower than others, but I got to meet a lot of families and Demelza staff in those days. There’s always a sense of teamwork in the hospice, and a good atmosphere; fun isn’t the right word to describe it, as you’re assisting families who have a really heavy load on their shoulders, but it is very worthy work. You feel like you’re contributing to something real."
John continues: "Due to the pandemic, the needs of the organisation changed, and families needed more support than ever; that’s when I became one of Demelza’s drivers. When a family isn’t able to facilitate a journey themselves for whatever reason – and there are a lot of times when that’s totally out of their control – I get a phone call, and I take one of Demelza’s specially kitted out vans to collect them and take them where they need to be. There’s no one reason a family might need a lift, either. Sometimes you’re helping them get to and from hospital appointments, other times you’re getting them across to one of the hospices so they can make use of the services there – it just depends on the needs of the family at that moment.
"It’s not a responsibility you can take lightly. If the child you’re collecting is a wheelchair user (especially an electric one) and you add together the weight of the vehicle itself, the specialist equipment like hoists and straps, any passengers, and the wheelchair the whole thing can weigh an absolute ton. It’s totally different from driving a car, and we receive regular training on how to safely operate the safety equipment and the vehicle itself; our first priority is making sure our families get from place to place as safely, and as comfortably, as possible. I do feel lucky to have that training, as it’s not something I would receive otherwise, and it enables families to trust that they’re putting their child in safe hands right from the get-go."
"I have so much respect for Demelza families"
"Driving is a more solitary job than the reception desk, but one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life is that sometimes it’s better to listen than to talk; as a driver, you put that into practice a lot. Anyone from Demelza will tell you that what a family really needs, sometimes, is a sympathetic ear and I’m happy to be the one to lend it; I have so much respect for Demelza families, who are able to carry on with their lives despite this awful thing that’s happening to them, so it’s the very least I can do. I consider it a privilege to help them. It surprises you as well, how funny and friendly they can be; it’s not sombre by any means, a lot of the time you’ll be chatting and laughing!
"That extends to the Demelza team as well. I’ve met other volunteers, some of them are drivers like myself, and they’re always happy to grab a drink on a Friday night or meet up for a coffee. I’ve attended some events as well – my first year in 2017 there was a Christmas event, which was just another great chance to meet like-minded people and support the charity in other ways. There is a social aspect to it, and while the families always come first it is really nice to have built up a bit of a friendship group as well. It helps that I’m the most handsome driver, too!
"I’d recommend anyone to get involved with Demelza; we always need more volunteers, and you’ll never be short of stuff to do!”