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Volunteering Case Study – James Grieves at Northumbria Specialist and Emergency Healthcare Hospital

Monday, 06 June, 2022

James was a volunteer at Northumbria Specialist and Emergency Healthcare hospital as part of the HelpForce project.

James attended St. Benet Biscop Catholic High School and wanted to work in genetic research once he completed his studies in chemistry, biology and mathematics.

Apart from visiting scouts every week, James used to spend a lot of time in front of the TV in his spare time. James said at the time “I didn’t get out a lot and knew I needed to get away from the TV screen. I’m very different to my sister who socialises a lot but all I used to do was scouts. I enjoyed it as my father and my grandfather also used to be part of scouts. There wasn’t anything else that interested me and I never really thought about volunteering.”

As part of the national HelpForce initiative, Northumbria Healthcare Volunteering Service visited St. Benet Biscop to make a presentation to the students who may be interested in volunteering and being part of this exciting project. The presentation and stories got him hooked and he wanted to become a volunteer as he knew he could make a difference.

When the team met James they instantly thought that he would be a great addition to the volunteer’s service. He was charming and wasn’t afraid to ask questions. He made it clear he wanted to volunteer for the right reasons. The training sessions provided by the team armed him with a lot of information and James felt more prepared and understood what he would experience within his role.

James began volunteering in February 2018 and said on that his first day he “was very nervous, seeing the signs and walking through those doors for the first time worrying what I was going to see and hear, what was I going to be doing? I met the matron and the ward manager, they welcomed me and introduced me to other members of staff – I instantly felt part of their team. This is when I realised that I really appreciated the role development session as I felt more prepared than if I hadn’t received that information prior to my first day on the ward.”

Even though James was really nervous, he soon began to have an impression on our patients.  A patient who James has spent some time with said, “I don’t want him to leave, he’s made me smile and he’s leaving a hole in my heart when he goes.”

Another patient said “Not having visitors doesn’t bother me but having company today was lovely, he was such a charming young man.” James then met a patient who is living with dementia. The lady repeated a lot of what was being discussed and found it really hard to hold a conversation. She repeatedly tried to get out of her chair which had been assessed as a risk for her to stand unaided. James noticed her mood changed when they discussed her favourite place to visit. The patient spoke fondly about the beach and how as a child she used to visit there with family and friends. She was able to remember these visits and the happy emotions that were attached to these memories.

The staff let us know later that she had been a lot more settled and more engaged in her care after our visit which reduced the risk of her falling. James said “I noticed the lady was agitated and was struggling to hold a conversation. The lady happily talked about her fond memories and it then evoked happy thoughts and gave a strong emotional response. I focused on this as the patient was able to relax and speak at ease about the beach.”

Now four years on James is studying Genetics at University of York with a focus on medicinal and agricultural plants.

Looking back, he says: “I honestly got into it because I needed something to do but and it I’m glad I did. I met a variety of people, both staff and patients, and in a way, it really helped me see more of the world than just the sphere I’d grown up in. There were always people with something interesting to say, and more and more I realised that I was making a difference to them too.

Hospital can be a difficult place, and being there to help put a smile back on someone’s face was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done to date. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always fulfilling. For me, it was the first time something I’d done really mattered and it left me with the conviction to not let it be the last.”

Well done James – and the team wish you all the best for the future.

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