This year marks a staggering 25 years since Demelza opened the doors of its first hospice in Sittingbourne – so we were thrilled to have the chance to speak to David, a volunteer who has been selflessly giving up his time in support of Demelza for that entire 25 years.
“I started more or less by accident,” recounts David. “I attended a dog show that was raising money to build the first hospice, and after finding out a bit more about what they were trying to achieve with Demelza, I decided to put my name down to do some volunteering. It was a job even finding the place back then, no one in Sittingbourne knew where it was! It shows how far things have come; everyone local knows about Demelza now.”
After signing up, David ran the gamut of volunteering opportunities over the years, starting in the Demelza Kent kitchens before eventually moving across to our first bereavement team when they were formed. “I took a course and qualified as what we called an ‘advanced volunteer’ back then,” he says, “so I was able to talk to bereaved families and offer a measure of support myself.
“I loved working with the siblings of children at Demelza, listening to them and giving them opportunities to express themselves through art as an outlet for the tough feelings they were processing.” He later started a dads’ group as well, which provided a casual and non-judgemental space for dads to share how they were feeling and meet others in the same boat; an important non-clinical offering that helped round out the other services available at the time.
During COVID-19, David donned his apron and helped the housekeeping team as they went through an unprecedented and challenging period of additional infection control procedures. “It was hard work, and I was only helping out a few days a week,” he says, “but it’s a credit to the whole Demelza team that there was never a COVID-19 outbreak at the hospice. We even managed to have some laughs during that time!”
Later, he would swap his apron for an elf costume as he joined Demelza’s army of volunteer elves, who brought Christmas to the front doors of hundreds of families even in the height of lockdown. “It’s been a privilege to see how not just the clinical support, but also the emotional support services have grown and evolved over 25 years, and how even now Demelza is striving to reach more families and increase what we can offer.”
David takes his role as a volunteer very seriously (you would hope so, after 25 years!) and believes that every volunteer should be an ambassador for Demelza. “You have to spread the word, because it makes a real difference; there isn’t a day in 25 years that I haven’t come to the hospice with my arms loaded up with donations from family and friends.”