Loss became a turning point for this remarkable volunteer

28th March 2019

Losing her parents and her best friend so close to each other drove Mandy Preece to the verge of collapse. But thanks to volunteering, she was able to turn her grief into a positive so that she could support hundreds of patients at the end of their lives.

Now, the end-of-life care volunteer, who won the NHS Volunteer Unsung Hero Award 2019, is urging the public to support the Helpforce Champions Awards to celebrate the amazing differences that NHS volunteers make to patients and staff every day. The awards, now in its second year, aim to recognise individuals and teams who go the extra mile to benefit patients, staff, and communities. The awards are organised by Helpforce, a charity on a mission to improve the lives of NHS staff, patients and communities through the power of volunteering.

The mother-of-one, who is now living in Christchurch, Bournemouth, said: “I’m humbled to have received national recognition for the work that I do. It gave me the opportunity to meet other fantastic volunteers, who had dedicated their whole life to helping the community, which was truly inspiring.”

“As it was such a great experience for me, I really hope more NHS volunteers get the recognition that they deserve. That’s why I fully support the Helpforce Champions Awards as I can see the tremendous values that those awards will bring to volunteers, who work relentless hours to support patients, their families and NHS staff.”

Mandy, who established a team of companion volunteers at Macmillan Caring Locally – a palliative care unit under Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch NHS Hospital Trust, started her volunteer journey eight years ago following the deaths of her parents and best friend.

Her dad suddenly died after he fell ill and just one year later, her mum passed away at home of pancreatic cancer. And a few years’ later one of Mandy’s best friends also lost her battle with cancer.

The married volunteer said: “My life at that point was shadowed with grief. But out of the blue I fell pregnant and took a career break to be a mum. When I thought about going back to work I couldn’t stop thinking about people who have no family around when they are dying.”

“That perhaps there was something I could do to make a difference to people. And I remembered when my parents were in hospital, there were some patients who spent lots of time on their own and they would always be happy if someone came over to say hi or spend time with them.”

“So I began to volunteer, offering my companionship to patients who are near the end of their life. It is an honour to be alongside patients and be part of the NHS team. Being a volunteer is a privilege.”

Having supported hundreds of patients helped Mandy realise what is important in life. She explained: “I have come across so many people who have left a mark in my heart. I will always remember a stroke patient, who used to be a ballerina, asked me if I could dance for her when I go home. Or a young man, who had a few months to live, told me how lucky he was because he had such a gorgeous wife and a beautiful daughter. Those stories really encourage me to live to the fullest and help as many people as possible.”

Not only is she part of a fantastic volunteer team, Mandy is also a coach and travels to many Trusts across the country to provide communications training to volunteers. She said: “Supporting patients at the end of their life is not an easy thing to do. Not only do you need confidence, but also good listening skills. I help volunteers to understand when it’s the right time to approach patients, the best ways to support them, and most importantly, to learn how to manage their emotions and look after their well-being.”

Talking about her next plans, Mandy said: “I’m delighted to have been invited to be part of the Helpforce volunteering steering group, where I meet with NHS decision makers to help with building long-term plans for NHS volunteers.

“I truly believe that everyone should volunteer for the NHS because then you can see how hard the NHS staff are working every day to help patients and how much support that we all can give them to make a difference to our community.”

To nominate your NHS volunteers and teams for the Helpforce Champions Awards, please visit https://www.helpforce.community/get-involved/awards/. Deadline for submissions is Thursday, 1st August, 2019.

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