There are more than 200 hospices in the UK, which all rely on the support of volunteers to care for people with life-limiting illnesses and their families.
From taking a seat on a charity’s board, to serving lunch, gardening, driving and even snapping photos for eBay, there’s an amazing variety of opportunities to suit the time you have available and your skills, hobbies and interests.
“There isn’t a single part of our charity that could run without them,” says Huddersfield’s Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice, which cares for young people and their families in West Yorkshire.
“You might find yourself pottering around our gardens in your wellies, doing some ironing for exhausted parents, or reading to a sibling who feels a bit lost.”
Hospices rely largely upon charitable fundraising to cover the cost of providing free palliative care and help with day-to-day living to more than 200,000 people every year, as well as support, respite and bereavement care for families.
Without the services of an army of volunteers, hospices could see their annual costs increase by a quarter, according to Hospice UK.
“Hospice volunteering is not just about saving money,” adds the charity, which says that for many people, it’s a life-affirming chance to give back to the community they’re part of, make a difference and make new friends along the way.
Whether you pledge a few hours a day, a few days a year, or make a volunteering role a work experience or retirement vocation, every volunteer is a hugely valued part the hospice movement.
Here are 15 hospice volunteer jobs that may inspire – and even surprise you – picked from a wealth of opportunities to help provide care, dignity and reassurance to people at the end of their lives.
1. Make some noise
If you can clap and shout, then you have the key skills needed to become a cheering squad member for a hospice at a marathon event or charity run.
Volunteers who sign up for a spot on a cheering station along the route are given charity T-shirts to wear and whoop up a storm when they spot runners fundraising for their cause – encouraging other bystanders to donate to collection buckets.
It’s a great way of making a difference without breaking a sweat, says St Catherine’s Hospice in Crawley, Sussex.
2. Volunteer as a homemaker
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Hospices support more than two thirds of the people they care for in the wider community or in the comfort of their own home. When people come into the hospice itself for respite care or end-of-life support, it’s important for the environment to feel reassuring and homely as possible.
Volunteer home-makers help people feel comfortable, from regularly keeping tea cups topped up, to being around for people who feel like conversation and chat. Home makers may also help families arrange for special events or celebrations with their loved one.
“Making patients and their loved ones feel comfortable and at ease is a vital part of life here,” says St Michael’s Hospice in Hereford, which is supported by 900 volunteers.
3. Be a bag packer
Many hospices take advantage of opportunities at supermarkets, to help pack shopping bags and raise funds for their charity. If you can’t commit to regular volunteer hours, then signing up to be a volunteer-bag packer is a great way to pledge a few hours to your local hospice. If you can’t manage heavy lifting, then you can always shake a bucket, as shoppers donate to the charity.
This is just one of the many volunteer opportunities at hospices including East Lancashire Hospice, which says that every one of its volunteers are vital and valued.
4. Front of house
Hospice receptionists are the first point of contact for hospice visitors and callers seeking information – and there are many responsibilities with this volunteer job. This role involves clerical duties, as well as great communication skills, integrity and confidentiality.
“Our receptionists are the first people that families see when coming to visit loved ones – they are a vital part of the care that we provide,” says Romford’s St Francis Hospice.
5. Provide complementary therapies
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Relaxing massage and holistic therapy treatments including aromatherapy, acupressure, reiki and reflexology can be greatly valued by hospice patients and their carers – helping relieve some of the physical and mental stress they are experiencing, says Marie Curie, which has eight hospices around the UK.
Volunteer complementary therapists should hold a professional qualification in their field, with the hospice providing necessary training to carry out treatments in a palliative care environment.
6. Get gardening
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Whether they have several acres, or just a small area of outdoors space, most hospices have gardens for patients, families and visitors to enjoy, spend time together, or come and remember loved ones.
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener, or looking for an opportunity to learn, there are always jobs to do in the hospice garden, from raking leaves and mowing, to keeping flower beds weed-free and full of blooms. Some hospices also extend their volunteer-led gardening services to people being cared for at home, helping keep lawns trim and outdoor spaces maintained.
“Looking after the garden is often last on the list of priorities for families, which is where our gardening volunteers step in,” says Noah’s Ark Hospice, which cares for children and young people in North and Central London.
7. Sort stamps
A number of charities gratefully accept used postage stamps, as part of their fundraising activities. And where there are donated stamps, there are stamps sorters, who soak, dry, organise and price the stamps for sale to dealers, collectors and crafters; often carrying out the work at home. Guidance is provided, so that sorters can identify valuable Penny Blacks and Blues from their Green Shields.
St Luke’s Hospice in Harrow and Brent is among UK hospices to have a team of stamps sorting volunteers and says an interest and knowledge of stamp collecting is ideal.
8. Ring the changes at a charity shop
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Hospice charity shop volunteers can opt to serve behind the till, sort donations in the stock room, price and label – or even do a spot of creative window dressing. It’s a chance to meet people and be part of a team, or could be a confidence-boosting first step into developing skills for future paid employment.
Many hospices generate vital revenue with one or more high street charity shops. “Without the help of volunteers helping our retail team in a variety of roles we simply couldn't operate our shops,” says Acorns, which provides care for children and young people across the West Midlands from three hospices and has over 50 charity shops in the region.
9. eBay photographer
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Some hospices have thriving online auction sites, selling vintage clothes and collectables to buyers around the world. And for every item that’s listed, volunteer eBay photographers snap the items selected for sale. With new items listed everyday, volunteer photographers should ideally be able to light and shoot items as attractively as possible, and upload images according to direction.
Martlets Hospice in Brighton and Hove is among the hospices with volunteer photographers supporting its online charitable enterprise, each typically committing three volunteer hours a week.
10. Be a driver
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Volunteer drivers are an important part of day-to-day hospice operations, helping ensure that patients and carers get from home to appointments with the hospice, for day-care or therapy sessions. As well as an experienced and careful driver, it helps to be a people-person able to put passengers at their ease and engage in friendly chat if they are open to conversation.
Driver roles usually require volunteers to transport people in their own insured car, with petrol expenses covered by the hospice.
“Some of our patients would have no means of getting to the hospice,” says St Clare Hospice in West Essex, which says the volunteer driver service helps ensure its hospice care is accessible.
11. Occupational therapy
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Hospices provide holistic care that enables people with a life-limiting or terminal illness to pursue interests and hobbies, or try their hand at new activities and crafts.
Skilled hobbyists might help organise arts and crafts sessions, baking or musical activities, gardening, or help with days out or theatre trips. Others may simply volunteer a few hours a week to befriend a hospice patient and make time for regular visits and chat.
Ayrshire Hospice says with a diverse range of skills and experiences, volunteers like this allow it to offer a broader range of services and provide a community perspective to its work.
12. Say it with flowers
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Volunteers play an important part in making hospices feel homely and welcoming – and fresh floral displays and flourishing houseplants are among the special touches that help.
Volunteer flower arrangers keep vases looking fresh and tidy for patients, visitors and staff to enjoy, with blooms donated to the hospice. They might also be asked to tend potted indoor plants, too. An eye for detail is a definite advantage, as is a friendly outlook, as part of the volunteer team.
Flowers have a huge part to play at St. Margaret's Hospice in Somerset, which says: “Our patients really appreciate beautiful displays and arrangements on the wards and in rooms. Meals are also served with a small vase of fresh flowers, they really can brighten a day.”
13. Give talks
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With every hospice dependent upon continual fundraising, it’s important to maintain awareness of their work within the local communities they serve. Volunteer public speakers support the work of fundraising teams, by addressing community groups and business organisations. You could find yourself speaking at anything from a local football club social to a formal dinner event.
Confidence and enthusiasm are key in engaging audiences and encouraging them to support their local hospice. The role may include networking to reach out to new groups in your local area and keeping in touch with organisations that have donated – and writing thank you letters.
Cecilia became a volunteer administrator and public speaker with the Norfolk Hospice when she set down new roots in the local area. She said: “As a public speaker and ambassador, I can say 'thank you' and tell people how their donations mean we can provide help, support and dignity to patients and their families.”
14. Bring your pet
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Time spent with dogs and cats can be life-enhancing, with pet therapy programmes adopted by many organisations around the UK that support people coping with difficult circumstances, including those living with a terminal illness and individuals or families grieving a loved one.
Many hospices welcome visitors with well-trained dogs and cats that are happy to spend time being petted or sitting quietly with patients. While some individual hospices have their own schemes, national charity Pets as Therapy is a good place to find out more about local opportunities – and assess whether your dog or cat would be a suitable therapy pet.
“Volunteers with just a small amount of spare time each week work with their own pets, to bring joy, comfort and companionship to many individuals who appreciate being able to touch and stroke a friendly animal,” it says.
15. Support someone with home visits
Hospices care for many patients in their own homes, also supporting families looking after a loved one with a terminal illness or life-limiting condition. As well as provide palliative medical care, they aim to ease the worry and isolation that many people can feel.
Volunteer home supporters may spend three hours on a visit to someone who may simply want to chat – and this can also provide an opportunity for family or carers to have a break, or enjoy the additional company. If someone’s well enough to get out and about, a hospice home support volunteer may accompany them to a doctor’s appointment, or provide companionship on an outing.
“Living with a terminal illness can cause anxiety and stress and home can become a lonely place,” says Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice, in Farnham, Surrey, whose volunteers provide valued and much-needed support for families.
- If you’re seeking the opportunity to do something new, give back to your community, or want to find out more about end of life care and support in your local area, you'll find a helpful search tool on the Hospice UK website. Individual hospices provide details of current volunteering opportunities on their own websites, along with further information about the roles, responsibilities and in-house training that’s provided.