Volunteers at Maggie’s provide a warm and friendly welcome and a listening ear for those who are affected by cancer.
Fiona Liddell, Helpforce Cymru Manager at WCVA has recently visited Maggie’s at the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff.
‘Walking into Maggie’s is to enter into a modern, airy, open-plan space,’ Fiona says. ‘Small groups of people at a long kitchen table are absorbed in chatter and coffee. Others are quietly reading the paper or sitting in an easy chair by the window. Staff are available to provide emotional or psychological support or offer advice regarding side effects and to support family members too.’
‘Small rooms are available for anyone who wants a more private conversation, and another area can be partitioned off for activity sessions such as yoga, tai chi, art or group discussions.’
‘Volunteers are there to greet people, offer them tea or coffee and to gently find out why they have come – maybe for a quiet space to sit and breathe, for information and advice, to meet others and have a chat or for professional support with clinical, psychological or welfare matters.’
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
In 1993 Maggie Keswick Jencks was told that her breast cancer had returned and that she only had months to live. She and her husband were moved to a windowless corridor in the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, where they were left to process the news.
In her last months, Maggie resolved to create a new kind of support, so that those with a diagnosis and the families and friends around them would be able to change the way they live with cancer. She was determined that people should not lose the joy of living in their fear of dying.
With keen support from husband Charles and her cancer nurse Laura Lee, the first Maggie’s centre was opened in Edinburgh in 1996, shortly after Maggie’s death. Laura Lee became Chief Executive of the charity. By now there is a total 24 centres across the UK and overseas, including in Swansea and Cardiff. A 25th is under construction in Denbighshire.
VOLUNTEERING AT MAGGIE’S
Steph first heard about Maggie’s through a friend. When she learned that a new centre was to be opened in Cardiff and that younger members were being sought to join the Fundraising Board, she put her name forward.
When the centre opened in the grounds of Velindre Cancer Centre in 2019, 18 months later, Steph became a board member and regularly volunteers at the Centre.
‘It’s a busy place and there is always something to do – someone who needs your attention, ’ says Steph. ‘We encourage people to come in, have a chat and find out whether they are here for the first time, or returning.’
‘We listen and can help to an extent, perhaps introducing them to others or telling them about courses and activities that are available through the centre. People don’t always need to see a cancer support specialist initially, but they are here to support when needed.’
‘If someone is upset we make it clear that we are a volunteer and offer to sit with them and chat. We don’t ask intrusive questions and are always guided by each person as to what they need from us.’
As well as providing a practical and personal welcome at the centre, volunteers often get involved in fundraising activities. A recent ‘culture crawl‘ involved a 10km walk around Cardiff visiting little known locations of cultural interest and concluding with a curry at the finish. Events such as these provide welcome opportunities for fun and socialising as well as raising well needed charity funds.
MAGGIE’S CANCER SUPPORT
In Cardiff, three cancer support specialists, two clinical psychologists and a benefits advisors are available to provide one to one information and advice.
As well as drop-in support, a range of programme activities run by the staff promote fitness and mental wellbeing, including stress management, nutrition and relaxation.
Individuals can sign up for designated eight-week courses or for regular activities such as the men’s group and weekly walking groups. (An initial chat with staff ensures that the activity is appropriate for them).
‘People always leave here a bit more relaxed and ‘lighter’’ said Steph.
A site has been agreed for a new Velindre Cancer Centre and a new Maggies’ centre will be built alongside. Co-location with NHS hospital provision is key to the success of every Maggie’s centre. NHS staff can refer people or even walk over to introduce someone in person.
Although independent, Maggie’s works in close partnership with the NHS, providing support which complements vital medical treatments, and which is equally vital for the quality of life of those who have a cancer diagnosis.
The new move will bring new opportunities for Maggie’s to develop. Volunteers will continue to play a central role.
Centre Head Sam Holliday said: ‘At Maggie’s we are always looking for new programme activity to support our visitors, family and friends. This, in the future, will lead to many new exciting volunteer opportunities.’
This case study comes from our Helpforce Cymru project. Helpforce is working with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 CVCs), Welsh Government and other partners to develop the potential of volunteering to support health and social care services in Wales.
The Helpforce Cymru page on our website includes links to recent articles, blogs and case stories.