Barbara Thomas is a retired school teacher who volunteers as a receptionist at Footherley Hall, Shenstone (England).
What made you start volunteering?
I noticed carers being called away from the residence lounge to open the front door and answer phone calls. Even if the carers are “just” sitting, chatting with the residents, that is caring and that’s what they should be doing.
Why did you choose to help Sisters Hospitallers?
My mother is a resident at Footherley Hall. I enjoy the relationship with the nuns. I do have roman catholic roots but surprise myself with an admiration for their life commitment.
I feel I can support them and help them, even if it’s only with a lift here or there or wrapping a few paragraphs together, over the phone, when the power goes down.
I enjoy the relationship with the nuns and admire their life commitment.
What do you do when you are at Footherley Hall?
I cover absence on the front reception desk. I live near Footherley Hall and thought I might be able to fill in during winter when bad weather delays, or prevents reception staff getting in along those country lanes or last minute sickness calls.
What do you enjoy the most of volunteering?
I meet everybody, residents, staff, relatives, etc. on the front desk and I really see how the Hall works.
My mom often sits with me. I think it’s nice for visitors to see a resident frontline.
Tell us about the greatest joy/satisfaction you have had volunteering here.
Somebody phones with a question, concern or problem and I want to “sort it”. I want to put their minds at rest.
I quite enjoy being “hassled” by the residence -the same question/worry a dozen times, the same wanderer trying to get down the wrong corridor or “I don’t remember where the dining room is”, etc.
Any disappointments? Has it been difficult sometimes?
Sometimes I have to pass a query on to someone else but I would like to be able to sort the query out myself, for example, by being able to confirm that the person they want to visit is available that particular day and so on.
What’s your relationship like with members of staff, residents and family members?
God I hope.
I’m relieving carers of extra duties, giving them more time to do what they’re good at.
It’s a real education into the conditions of ageing and ways of accepting and dealing with it.
It’s really educated me into the variety of difficulties the residence experience. I’m fascinated by the repetition needed by some, several times in a two-hours shift and the number of residents living deeply in the past, looking for their parents but not mentioning their children or grandchildren. It’s made me more accepting and understanding of my mother’s own drift into the past.
Being the receptionist is extremely sociable (OK, maybe I’ve got a sad social life!) and a real education into the conditions of ageing and ways of accepting and dealing with it.