Giving back to these wonderful carers

Lynne Kowalski
Lynne Kowalski
  • Yorkshire’s children’s hospices rely on an army of helpers. In Volunteer Week Hannah Start reports on the difference they make.
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WHEN Steve Knight’s daughter Emma died from a brain tumour it was the worst time of his life. But without Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice in Sheffield, he says, it could have been even worse.

Since then he has worked tirelessly in the community fundraising in her memory.

Steve Knight

Steve Knight

Having never organised an event before he now runs very successful comedy and tribute nights every year - ensuring the hospice can be there in the future for other families just like his.

Without volunteers like him, the hospices simply wouldn’t be able to help as many people as they do.

He said: “Even though it was a sad time for us, we had happy memories of Emma being at Bluebell Wood. Volunteering and fundraising is just my way of giving something back for the amazing support we received.”

Emma was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2004 and Bluebell Wood’s care team members helped her at home at first, providing overnight support once a week.

When her condition progressed, this increased and nurses supported her mother Jane and Steve for 40 hours a week.

Emma passed away at home, aged just 13. Bluebell Wood nurses were there and this made a huge difference to the family.

“She had all the teddies and photos from her room around her, and her favourite yellow bedding. Emma looked like she wasn’t poorly any more, all the pain had gone,” her mother said.

Steve also collects tins, does bucket collections, works on stalls, and is always out there talking about Bluebell Wood.

He said: “It was daunting organising my first event. I had no idea where to start, but the Bluebell Wood fundraising team were great- they helped me along the way and answered all my questions.”

Ruth Cousins also had very personal reasons for wanting to help Wetherby children’s hospice Martin House.

Her nephew James died there at only a few weeks’ old and she too was so grateful for the support the family had received; she was determined to “give something back”.

Last year Ruth decided the time was right to consider volunteering and her local Martin House shop in Ilkley was delighted to welcome her to the fold.

It is estimated that in 2014-15, volunteering alone contributed over £400,000 to Martin House in unpaid work: the equivalent of almost four weeks of care for families.

Ruth said: “I can’t express how wonderful everyone at Martin House was during James’s time there. There was always a member of the care team with him, whether we visited at one in the afternoon or three o’clock in the morning. Though his death hit the family hard, what could have been an agonising event was made beautiful as we were given the time and space to say goodbye in our own way.

“From that moment, I knew I wanted to give something back to the hospice. I make sure that anyone who comes into the shop knows about the amazing work done at Martin House. Some people do just pop in to browse but I greet everyone as cheerfully as I can and I always make a big fuss of anyone who takes the time and effort to donate items.”

After organising two successful fundraising balls in 2009 and 2010, Ruth is looking forward to a third event in Ilkley next year. In addition to her volunteering, she has also recently been appointed Sunday assistant shop manager at the Ilkley shop.

Like Ruth, Lynne Kowalski’s volunteer work has also led to a more permanent role.

When Lynne made a phone call to the volunteer coordinator at Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice in Huddersfield in July 2013, little did she know that three years later she would have gone from part time receptionist to care team member.

Lynne, who lives in Halifax, said: “When I worked on reception it allowed me to see a lot of the work that goes on at the hospice, I met and got to know fundraisers, families, care team members and many more people, all of whom were such welcoming, positive people and really inspired me to want to do more. You can’t help but to naturally get drawn into the charity, it’s such an amazing place and you just want to do whatever you can to help.”

Lynne’s background was in the fitness industry before going on to start up her own business aimed at highlighting the importance of relaxation and balance in workplaces, charities and the community.

But after she was diagnosed with cancer she had to step away from her work.

She wanted to volunteer and one day spotted a balloon advertising a children’s charity so decided to look for opportunities to support children and families.

The next day she called her local hospice.

From receptionist she went on to work as a family support volunteer.

“It something I always wanted to do but I wanted to overcome and recover from cancer before committing to it. I remember seeing a young girl at the hospice who was being assisted by a

ventilation machine and she was so happy, she really motivated me through my own surgery,” she said.

When she heard about vacancies in the care team she knew she had to apply.

“This really is a very special and inspirational place,” she said.