Volunteering on the front line: how we supported our NHS staff in a time of crisis

Volunteering on the front line: how we supported our NHS staff in a time of crisis

01 June 2021

As soon as lockdown hit in March 2020, our volunteering team had to be one step ahead. With the help of over 300 Crisis Response Volunteers, we supported Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust staff during one of the biggest crises the NHS has ever seen. Hear from our Charing Cross Hospital Volunteering Manager Andy Smith about how we’ve helped our hospitals get through this last year.

Stepping up

As the pressure on the NHS started mounting, we knew we had to support our front-line workers in the fight against Covid-19. In the space of just one week, we mobilised our team to recruit Crisis Response Volunteers for our hospital on-site response teams based at Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s hospitals.

Most of the incredible volunteers who joined our team were furloughed and unable to see or interact with other people, but our volunteering programme allowed them the chance to meet others in their local community. In one case, strangers who lived on the same road as each other were brought together through volunteering at Charing Cross Hospital!

“Being out in the community and liaising with people has been a real morale boost.”

Crisis Response Volunteer

The opportunity to support their local community was a real pull for many volunteers. In a recent survey, 79% of volunteers agreed they now had an improved sense of local belonging and one told us that being out in the community had been a real morale boost.

Helping our hospitals during the first wave

We were proud to play a critical role in helping our hospitals from the very beginning of the pandemic. Some of the ways we supported our hospitals included:

  • facilitating the delivery of thousands of meals to front-line staff - in total, we delivered 170,000 meals across our hospitals
  • working with the hospitals’ Friends organisations to use their stores as free shops full of everyday essentials for staff - in just two months, we recorded 100,000 visits to these fully-funded shops
  • providing a free hairdressing service – ‘Haircuts for Heroes’ – enabling front-line workers to enjoy a trim and tidy up at a time when salons and barber shops were closed.

For the enormous part they played in helping us support our hospitals, our volunteers were winners in the Mayor of London Volunteering Awards. You can read all about the award here.

Playing our part during a challenging winter

By the time January rolled around, things had changed. As the second wave reached its peak, we implemented volunteer roles that would continue to have a positive impact on supporting patients and staff within our hospitals. We returned volunteers to support wards, introduced roles within our A&E departments, supported the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, staff testing and assisted staff in our hospital reception areas.

Some of the ways volunteers are currently supporting our hospitals include:

  • assisting the vaccine clinics by welcoming people to their appointments, showing them where to go and offering comfort for anyone feeling nervous
  • ensuring patients receive appropriate food and nutrition during their hospital stay through mealtime support roles
  • welcoming patients and visitors to the hospitals and making sure they follow the correct health and safety guidance
  • supporting with the rollout of lateral flow test kits to staff and volunteers.

The flexibility of our current model allows volunteers to choose which area they would like to support, and this has been particularly useful for those interested in learning new skills and pursuing a career in healthcare. In a recent survey, 100% of volunteers said they felt supported by our volunteering team - and we are happy to support them in any way we can!


My memorable moments

I feel incredibly proud to have supported our hospitals this last year. One of the most memorable moments for me was working with colleagues all over the hospital, building friendships and being there to support friends and colleagues.  I remember taking part in the last 'clap for carers' at Charing Cross Hospital - one of my NHS colleagues was leaving the Trust and we had just had the floral heart displays installed outside the hospital entrance. It was the perfect way to thank them for all their hard work.

“Working with NHS staff and volunteers has helped to keep me going when there have been challenging moments.”

Andy Smith, Volunteering Manager (Charing Cross Hospital)

Working with NHS staff and volunteers has helped to keep me going when there have been challenging moments, but comments like this from volunteers just makes it all worthwhile: “I really value being part of a team. The staff treat the volunteers with great respect and are grateful for our help, which I find very moving when I think about what they have been through during the Covid crisis. Reece and Andy from the volunteering team are exceptional. They are welcoming, thorough, inclusive and very professional. They brighten my volunteering days.”

You can find out more about how we’ve been helping our hospitals by reading our Covid-19 Impact Report here.

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Andy Smith - Volunteering Manager Charing Cross Hospital

Merlyn Marsden - Site Director Charing Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals

Leanne Davis - Senior Cancer Manager (UCL)/Deputy General Manager (IHCT)