The Volunteer Revolution

Professor Deborah Sturdy OBE FRCN, Director of Health & Wellbeing, Royal Hospital Chelsea

Susan Williams, Matron, Royal Hospital Chelsea

Much has been heralded about the army of volunteers who have eagerly signed up to be the answer to the NHS call for help in improving patient experience. It has been impressive to see that so many people want to give their time and support to such an important national service. It should also encourage social care to invest in asking for support within its local community to enhance the wellbeing and support to those living in Care Homes and whom do not have the same opportunities to engage in wider community activity either independently or with support.

Volunteering brings a range of benefits to both the recipient and giver. Having a purpose and giving something back can be hugely personally rewarding and when it is personal within your own community, has a greater resonance.

Professor Deborah Sturdy

At the Royal Hospital Chelsea volunteering has for many years been a positive and important part of the life and support to our veterans. The 71 active volunteers provide a range of roles and undertake an important and valued part in the life of the Hospital. Supporting our older veterans makes a dramatic difference to their wellbeing as a whole. Social engagement and  activities which bring meaning, purpose and inclusion, range from the choir, quiz mornings, concerts, day trips, museum and gallery svisits, crafts and music.

Through a careful assessment and matching process between the individual pensioner and appropriate volunteer, we help to support individuals who are reluctant to engage in communal or group activities. This one to one relationship has supported a number of people with differing needs gain enjoyment in a simple chat over coffee to a shared interest in a hobby.

The support goes beyond the face to face day to day care of our community but extends to working with our fundraising team and supporting the heritage department through helping with administration and cataloguing. Creating a community of many talents, adds a richness and breadth of ideas and contributions and possibilities about what can be tried and what can be achieved. The commitment we see in our volunteers in going above and beyond is immeasurable in how that translates into the enjoyment of our residents.  

Susan Williams

Within our specialist unit for people living with dementia, our volunteers are instrumental in helping support ouractivity dementia coordinator  to create a range of  interesting, appropriate and fun activities as well as our  planned weekly events such as  Friday afternoon tea and cake, which is a much look forward to event. Volunteers also help with getting people to the weekly dementia friendly church service and other events within our home. 

Coordination is key. Without oversight, this large number of volunteers can become lost and unrecognised. To that end we have appointed a volunteer coordinator who assures proper induction, oversight, training, compliance with safeguarding, policies and review of their role. This is imperative in ensuring we have the right volunteers with the right skills and creates and sustains a sense of community amongst the volunteers. Valuing the real difference they make, including them in the celebrations and recognising the extra mile through thank you cards, Birthday cards and  a card at Christmas means we can continuously say ‘thank you’ for all they bring to enrich the community. 

Safeguarding the team and the community through training and induction is essential. We have focused on three volunteer intakes a year in order to better manage expectations and administration, DBS checks and induction programme. Having a managed system ensures people don’t fall through the cracks and assures that we have people who have been properly supported in this important role. We also follow up, check in and review progress.

We want our volunteers to gain a sense of enjoyment in what they do, as we believe this is infectious in making them part of our community and translates into greater enjoyment of those with whom they support.   




Edel Harris





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