“Our Helper service is helping people in so many ways”

By Kathy Holland
Marie Curie Helper service manager in Somerset and Bristol

The Marie Curie Helper service is provided by specially trained volunteers who visit people in their homes so they can be a source of companionship, emotional support and practical information – depending on what’s needed. As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of this pioneering service, Kathy looks back on her involvement from its early days in Somerset and why she’s so fond of being part of it.

Kathy Holland, Marie Curie Helper manager Somerset and BristolI joined Marie Curie in 2009 to manage the Helper service’s two-year pilot in Somerset. We developed the service based on the needs of terminally ill people and their families. They told us they wanted someone helpful, who has the time to be there for them as a friendly, knowledgeable support.

My day-to-day role as service manager is quite varied. I spend some of my time providing support to our Helper volunteers. This might involve discussing with them the people they’re supporting or finding out how they are getting on with their role.

I also chat to the people we’re supporting to ask them how we are helping or ways we could improve our service.

I make sure local organisations and health and social care professionals, such as GPs, social workers and nurse specialists, are aware of our service so we can work together to benefit more terminally ill people and their families.

A big learning curve

As the first pilot for the service, we had to work hard to get our service known locally and attract people to volunteer with us.

In the early days, we had plenty of discussions on how the service might work – for example, what we should include in our volunteer training sessions and the types of support our volunteers should be providing.

When we had our first group of volunteers trained, we faced challenges around getting people to refer to our service, and at earlier stages of a person’s terminal illness. And when the demand for our service increased, we had to ensure we have enough volunteers to support people who were being referred to us.

It was a big learning curve for me and everyone else involved at Marie Curie, but I have the amazing support of wonderful colleagues to make sure we were going in the right direction.

Volunteers are such a vital part of our service

I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing that our Helper service is helping people in so many ways.

Our volunteers provide all kinds of support – from taking people out for a cup of tea or a stroll in their local park, to playing board games, reading to them and spending time looking through their photo albums with them. I think the most important support they give is just by being there for a few hours each week as a reliable, friendly companion who can help.

All the support our service provides would not be possible without our Helper volunteers. They never cease to inspire me with their dedication and professionalism. We have been very fortunate to have recruited volunteers who are always prepared to go the extra mile to help.

As the Helper service turns five, I want to thank all our volunteers who have given their time and commitment to make the service a success. In particular, we have a special group of volunteers who have been with us from the beginning and will therefore be celebrating their fifth year of volunteering with us – a really commendable achievement in itself.

Five years on, it has certainly been a really exciting journey for me to see that this service, once a pilot in Somerset, has been expanded to cover Bristol and seven other areas. To my great delight, there are plans to expand the service to many more locations across the UK.

Over the last five years, the Marie Curie Helper service has supported almost 750 people across eight locations in the UK. To date, the service has trained 395 volunteers. Find out where the Helper service is available.