Hospice volunteers: bridging the gap to the community?

Sara M Morris, Sheila Payne, Nick Ockenden, Matthew Hill
Health & Social Care in the Community 2017, 25 (6): 1704-1713
Current demographic, policy and management changes are a challenge to hospices to develop their volunteering practices. The study upon which this paper is based aimed to explore good practice in volunteer involvement and identify ways of improving care through developing volunteering. The project consisted of a narrative literature review; a survey of volunteer managers; and organisational case studies selected through purposive diversity sampling criteria. A total of 205 staff, volunteers, patients and relatives were interviewed across 11 sites in England in 2012. This article focuses on one of the findings - the place that volunteers occupy between the hospice and the community beyond its walls. External changes and pressures in society were impacting on volunteer management, but were viewed as requiring a careful balancing act to retain the 'spirit' of the hospice philosophy. Honouring the developmental history of the hospice was vital to many respondents, but viewed less positively by those who wished to modernise. Hospices tend to be somewhat secluded organisations in Britain, and external links and networks were mostly within the end-of-life care arena, with few referring to the wider volunteering and community fields. Volunteers were seen as an informal and symbolic 'link' to the local community, both in terms of their 'normalising' roles in the hospice and as providing a two-way flow of information with the external environment where knowledge of hospice activities remains poor. The diversity of the community is not fully represented among hospice volunteers. A few hospices had deliberately tried to forge stronger interfaces with their localities, but these ventures were often controversial. The evidence suggests that there is substantial scope for hospices to develop the strategic aspects of volunteering through greater community engagement and involvement and by increasing diversity and exploiting volunteers' 'boundary' position more systematically to educate, recruit and raise awareness.

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