Lead nurse Alison Cooke is the driving force for the Volunteer Service at South Warwickshire Foundation Trust

30th October 2021

SWFT image

Alison Cooke is the Lead Nurse for the Volunteer Service within South Warwickshire Foundation Trust’s (SWFT) Community Children’s Nursing (CCN) Team. The service was set up as a pilot as part of the Together for Short Lives Volunteering Matters project and ran from 1st February 2016 until 31st January 2018. However, such was the need, South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust continued to fund it. At that time, Alison was Director of Care in a children’s hospice but was also an active volunteer of the service, but with the new structure and funding in place, having recently retired Alison applied and was appointed part-time. Since being appointed, she has enthusiastically transformed the service which under Alison’s leadership and vision, has gone from strength to strength.

She has driven forward a much more inclusive and far-reaching health and social care service, one that fits the needs of South Warwickshire complex needs children, their families and support to the staff who care for them.

For many families this is a lifeline. Real examples are wide ranging including a child in end stage palliative care getting to sit and be driven in his dream car; a family whose mobility van was stolen had a suitable van funded, hired and delivered before they were due to go away saving their holiday; emergency supplies delivered at evenings and weekends; children discharged home when all options to get them home had been exhausted; Christmas parties organised and navigating delivery of presents and Easter eggs in COVID19 both at Christmas and Easter; gardens and houses transformed to enable parents to cope and children to play - the list is endless and inspiring.

Other support ranges from a new volunteer palliative care sitting for families who do not dare go to sleep unless they miss their child’s final moments (which Alison is currently training as a volunteer for) to more basic support such as sorting equipment, delivering prescriptions, collecting families for appointments, helping to organise children’s parties, and delivering gifts over the Christmas period. The list is endless, and Alison is key to making it all happen.

In terms of volunteer staffing, Alison has energetically recruited 24 volunteers and three nurse volunteers to support the service. From when volunteers start their role, she has a built-in programme of induction and ongoing training so they feel safe, valued and knowledgeable in what’s expected of them. She also works tirelessly to ensure that volunteers and families understand the boundaries between being a professional volunteer and a friend so as to protect both volunteer and family. Alison ‘meets’ the team via regular monthly online meetings and a What’s-App group. Once requests are identified and agreed the volunteer team is only one text away and response is rapid. However, Alison does not stop there, she ensures all the communication, protection and safeguarding is in place throughout and always does follow up calls to the volunteer once the task is completed. Alison recently set up and supported a Duke of Edinburgh candidate undertaking their volunteer assignment. The young person was popular with the young people in the youth group and continued volunteering after his award.

The service was really tested in COVID19 when many families were shielding and within a few days, Alison had developed, implemented and agreed a new policy, so volunteers were not left alone. She rapidly ensured volunteers had individual risk assessments, access to PPE, fit testing and COVID19 vaccinations (as soon as front-line local NHS staff were offered it). Consequently, throughout the lockdowns of COVID19, Alison ran a volunteer shopping service for families who were isolating so they did not miss out. She also liaised with a local Children’s Charity, Molly Olly’s, to set up an activity and support page with support of SWFT shielding staff and play team. The team was and is very effective but it's Alison’s own skills, knowledge and commitment which has led to this. Alison shows all the traits of a true Leader and whilst she leads the service, she does this from the front, involved in activities and inspiring the team. This is because she truly believes in making a difference to the daily lives of children with complex needs and their families. The families report that they value positive communication so much and she takes time to always introduce herself, the service and contact information. This is central to the way she works and she has set out an ambitious five-year plan which truly embeds this invaluable Warwickshire service.

Alison has a real talent when it comes to grant applications. She applied and gained funding to support individual children to achieve their dream activity, to support their day-to-day life and for wider activities such as Christmas parties. She has gained funding from nearly all the local councils in Warwickshire to support the development of the volunteer palliative care sitting service. Thanks to Alison, every year the volunteers become a more established and essential part of the Community Children’s Nursing team.

Alison was one of the finalists for the Helpforce Champions Awards 2021, in the category "Outstanding Staff Champion for Volunteers". Watch this video below to hear from her colleagues how her support makes a difference to them and the service.

You can read more inspiring stories here.