Published on 15 August 2019
Volunteer gardeners have helped plants grow and friendships blossom at East Kent’s hospitals.
Staff at the hospital Trust are now branching out to create even more gardening groups and hope additional volunteers will put down roots and join them.
Teams have cleared 12 gardens across the Trust’s five hospitals, and started creating welcoming outdoor spaces for patients to enjoy, but have plans for even more.
Mandy Carliell, the Trust’s Public and Patient Involvement Manager, said new volunteers could be assured of a warm welcome.
She said: “Our gardening teams have worked out brilliantly and there are some lovely friendship groups developing.
“It seems to be particularly popular for widowers, and it is wonderful to see them growing in confidence and meeting others in the same situation.
“But everyone is welcome and they make a real difference for our patients by creating somewhere they can sit outside with a bit of privacy and enjoy the fresh air and the calm environment.”
Volunteers are hard at work inside the hospitals too, helping on the wards, in the Friends’ shops, behind the scenes with admin teams or in reception areas, helping to direct people to wards and clinics.
About 700 people help across the five sites, and if they were lined up on top of each other they would reach almost four times the height of The Shard – the tallest building in London.
The oldest volunteer is 92, and some have been volunteering for more than 30 years.
Mandy said: "Our volunteers are brilliant – there are a million different things they could do in the community but they choose to come and help us.
“We give them all the support we can and we organise a strawberry tea and a Christmas dinner at each of the main sites to say thank you. But they always say they enjoy their time with us, whether because of the friendships they make or just knowing they are making a difference.”
As well as more gardeners, the Trust is looking for people to help visitors use the check-in machines at the entrance to the hospitals, which helps to reduce queues in outpatients.
Helpers are always needed on the wards, to run errands and to keep patients’ company and help out at meal times.
And next year, a new scheme is being rolled out for people to meet and greet patients and visitors and direct them to where they need to go.
Volunteers are asked to complete an application form and provide details of two referees, and must also undergo an enhanced security check. They will be given a uniform, training and a review a month after starting to check they are happy.
People are asked to commit to at least six months, and can give anything from four hours a week.
For more information see https://www.ekhuft.nhs.uk/patients-and-visitors/about-us/support-east-kent-hospitals/volunteering-at-east-kent-hospitals/ or call 07917 790322.