It’s Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June), which we’re marking with a range of events and activities to celebrate and thank our wonderful volunteers.
We spoke to one of our dedicated volunteers, wayfinder Charlie Richardson, for this week’s In Conversation With. Charlie, who is also a patient partner for our Outpatients team, has volunteered at our Trust for two years, starting out as a way to say thank you for the great care his wife received when she was treated at our Trust for breast cancer 15 years ago.
Lives: In Romford with wife Marian, 65. Between them they have Kenneth, 49, Susan, 46, Daniel, 36, Christopher, 34, and seven grandchildren aged from six up to 29.
And: Charlie really is dedicated to our Trust – so much so that he jumped out of a plane last October, aged 70, to raise money for our charity!
What made you decide to become a volunteer?
I retired when I was 64 and I’m not one to sit about. I thought volunteering would be good as it could be flexible. Once I started I found I really enjoyed it.
First I volunteered at an Age UK shop in Romford. I was out the back then they moved me to the till as I was the only one who could work a computer. I loved chatting to customers and I think for some of them, they could be lonely and it was a nice break for them too.
I also found out from the manager that some of the old ladies were coming in on the days I was there especially for a chat with me!
I came to our Trust after the shop closed. I was keen to help out at the hospital because my wife was looked after so well, at Harold Wood and Oldchurch Hospitals, and I got in through the Havering Volunteer Centre.
What do you like best about being a volunteer?
I love to help people and when someone smiles or says thank you it really means a lot as it shows you’ve made a difference to them.
You can often see from the looks on people’s faces when they come in that they’re worried and anxious, and having a friendly face to help them can really make it a more positive experience.
Can you share a little bit more about when Marian was diagnosed?
She ended up having a few biopsies after she found a lump before she was diagnosed. We were all ready to move to Spain, which we’d always planned. We had a place out there, the furniture was on a plane and we were all set to go, then she was told she had breast cancer.
The treatment was brilliant and the staff were great, they helped to keep her in good spirits. It wasn’t an ideal time for us – I’d left my job and we ended up buying a mobile home and living in Clacton for the first three months, which wasn’t good as it was winter and really cold.
Her treatment took around five months and we moved to Spain after that. We came to Romford when we left Spain about seven years ago because of the recession; the place was dead after that. It took a bit of getting used to, being home – we missed the sun!
What was your career before you became a volunteer?
I was a delivery driver in my younger days, then I spent years running golf clubs. I met Marian, who is my second wife, when I was running a club in Brentwood. It took a while for us to get together – I was her boss at the time!
I was born and raised in Scotland then moved to Middlesex in 1989 when I got a better job offer. I may have lived here almost 30 years but I’ve never lost my Scottish accent – people still can’t understand me!
What made you decide to skydive for our charity last year?
I’d always fancied doing it and I was talking to the Volunteer team about how we could raise money for our charity pot, next thing I knew I really was doing it!
My family thought I was mad. I raised over £2,000 which was fantastic as it beat my target.
I was most nervous while we were going up as there’s a bit of a wait for the plane to reach the right height, then 12 of us jumped within 30 seconds. The weather was tremendous. I loved doing it and I’d do it again.
Tell us more about your role as a patient partner
I work with the Outpatients team, giving a patient perspective. Whenever there are any changes I can look at them as a patient and ask myself, does this make things better for me?
I think about how things will affect patients and also ensure we’re keeping them informed, and I attend meetings and visit departments. I often find myself chatting to people in our Outpatients department, if someone has been waiting a while and is getting a bit fed up I’ll try and explain things to them and help alleviate any stress.
I took part in the 3P event recently. I was a bit apprehensive at first, I think everyone was, but once the Lego came out and we all started building it was fine. We came up with lots of ideas, including the virtual fracture clinic, which we’re currently trialling.
What do you like to get up to when you’re not helping out at our hospitals?
The family, especially the grandkids, keep me busy. I don’t mind gardening so I help to keep theirs neat and tidy too.
And what about your special birthday next year?
I’ll be 18! I was born on a leap year so I’ll officially be 18 next February 29 and I’m having a big party to celebrate!