Booking-in for a 35 year stint at hospice

LIKE most volunteers at Sheffield's St Luke's Hospice, Julia Hitchens dedicates a few hours a week whenever she can spare the time.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 20th September 2007, 10:23 pm
Updated Friday, 12th October 2007, 11:08 am

But, unlike the other helpers at the hospice on Little Common Lane in Ecclesall, she has been doing it for more than 35 years.

St Luke’s is dedicated to caring for people who are terminally ill and Julia, now aged 74, began volunteering on the wards in 1972.

“I first started volunteering because my husband’s parents were suffering some ill-health and I wanted to know how to look after them properly when the time came,” said Julia.

“I had some experience as an auxiliary nurse but I wanted to know more. It seemed like the ideal way to learn.”

The ward matron at the time wanted the nurses there to have access to as much information as possible so Julia, who lives in Ecclesall, then volunteered her time as a medical librarian - and the hospice’s education department was born.

She was such a valuable asset that in the 1980s she was officially employed as the hospice’s Medical Librarian. “I became a bit of a hybrid until I retired in 1998,” said Julia, a grandmother of six.

“I took six weeks off and then came back again and I’m still here.”

As part of her voluntary duties, Julia has organised the hospice book sales for the past 25 years.

There is usually one sale in the Autumn and another one at Christmas and Julia collects books that are donated to the hospice throughout the year.

“I love sorting through the books and magazines because you never know what you are going to find,” said Julia, who has three grown-up sons.

“Some times nothing is brought in and other days we get beautiful collections of novels or artistic prints.

“We get old newspapers and magazines, collections of essays and lots of books about Sheffield and the surrounding areas.”

Julia’s long-term commitment has meant she has seen hundreds of staff, volunteers and patients come and go.

“There are still a few members of staff that I have worked with since the beginning,” she said.

“I have a marvellous time doing this job - I am now in my 36th year at St Luke’s and I have seen the hospice, and its friends, grow and grow.”

Julia leads a team of volunteers - the eldest of whom is 89 - and says she plans to keep on dedicating her time for as long as they will have her.

“I think I will keep coming until I’m thrown out,” laughed Julia.

“I love the tasks because I acquire knowledge and have fun at the same time - and I am supported by a fantastic team of volunteers.”

Steve Kirk, chief executive of St Luke’s said: "The hospice relies on support from volunteers such as Julia.

“Her support and dedication over the years is really fantastic."

Anyone who is interested in volunteering at St Luke’s can contact the hospice on 0114 236 9911.