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'Being a volunteer definitely has reciprocal benefits'

Candice Pellett
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The Queen’s Nursing Institute runs a great telephone project called “Keep in Touch” (KIT) that strengthens the Queen’s Nurse community, past and present. 

The project offers current Queen’s Nurses opportunities to speak to retired Queen’s Nurses or community nurses regularly on the phone. They discuss life experiences, aspects of nursing past and present, memories and future plans. It encourages social interaction, creates new bonds and as one of the volunteers said, is truly “a two-way benefit”.

The project started in 2016 after the QNI recognised that many retired nurses felt socially isolated from their nursing community – the community that many of them had spent their whole careers working in – and expressed sadness and regret at not being able to talk to other nurses following retirement.

Many retirees had lost touch with nursing friends and colleagues and were no longer able to share experiences in, and reminisce about, their past nursing careers.

Early in 2018, I decided to find out more about volunteering on the KIT project. I had recently left the QNI where I worked as a project manager, so I had heard a fair amount about the KIT project from colleagues I had worked with and from hearing some volunteers’ feedback.

I spent many years working as a district nurse, covering a wide geographical area, with many patients on the caseload living in rural areas of the county. The majority of people we visited were older people, and many were lonely, as they had lost a partner or were isolated due to the environment where they lived.

With very few buses servicing the rural villages or hamlets, transport services into town were sporadic. Poor mobility and health increased the feeling of social isolation and loneliness and many looked forward to the visit from the community nurse, as this was often the only face-to-face contact they had.

Having spent most of my nursing career caring for older people, I could really understand why retired nurses may also feel isolated without their nursing teams and colleagues around them.

Prior to starting as a volunteer, the QNI organised an insightful induction day where I was provided with a dedicated mobile phone, paid for by the KIT project, which ensures that there are no financial costs incurred to either the volunteer or the retired nurse. I was then matched to a retired community nurse and given a pre-agreed time for my first phone call.

“It really is a two-way experience and we have shared many laughs and emotions together that come with life changes”

That first call was made to a retired nurse almost a year ago and it has been the most fascinating 12 months of learning and sharing together. She had a varied nursing career, and to hear the stories about her work as a nurse is truly inspiring. She is also interested in my career and current role and she has given me much food for thought regarding ideas that I am working on.

We speak weekly with an agreed time to call. She definitely is not socially isolated and has a great network of family and friends, but our weekly catch-ups give us both the space and time to talk about her experiences as a nurse and allows me to hear about her life now. It really is a two-way experience and we have shared many laughs and emotions together that come with life changes.

Being a volunteer definitely has reciprocal benefits; sharing knowledge from our nursing profession, supporting each other and having someone to talk to, listening and hearing her stories that bring her nursing career alive for us both.

It was lovely having the opportunity to meet her at Frogmore at the National Gardens Scheme event last year in Windsor. Not all volunteers get the chance to meet their matched retired nurse and I am truly humbled to call her my friend.

Candice Pellett OBE, Queen’s Nurse, project manager nursing, The Roald Dahl Marvellous Children’s Charity 

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