Self-employed hairdresser Cristina Tant spends five hours a week volunteering at our Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough. She is part of the centre's specially trained Get Creative team, who offer patients the chance to get involved in arts and crafts, use iPads to complete puzzles or crosswords, visit the on-site charity shop and take part in other activities.
I first thought about volunteering when I had a gentleman client who was given three months to live. We built up a real bond – he’d even pop in on days he knew I didn’t work for a chat. I realised how valuable those conversations were to him; they gave him some normality away from his illness.
When he died, I missed those conversations.
When a Timehop from four years previously appeared on my Facebook page, it reminded me of my long-term plan to volunteer, which was the spur I needed to find the right voluntary role.
“Everyone deserves a spot of pampering”
I did some research and saw the vacancy in the Get Creative team at Thorpe Hall. It sounded ideal for me: I could fit in a few hours a week around my children and my work, and spend time offering people the chance to do just what they wanted.
I received some training before going on to the ward, during which I mentioned my work as a hairdresser. It was agreed that my services would be offered to patients.
Just having your hair washed can make you feel so much better; it can even change your state of mind and make you feel better able to take on the day. I love the fact that I can offer patients at Thorpe Hall Hospice that chance.
I’ve cut patients’ hair, washed and styled it, and sometimes just sat and brushed hair. It’s not always easy – some patients can’t get out of bed but we will make it happen one way or the other. Everyone deserves a spot of pampering.
For one lady going through chemotherapy, having her long but thinning hair curled for possibly the last time was a real treat. For me, making her feel good about herself at such a difficult time was a privilege.
“I never walk out of the hospice feeling glum or down”
I don't just use my hairdressing skills. I also accompany Thorpe Hall patients to the on-site shop, join them on walks round the garden and help out with crosswords.
A lot of patients just appreciate the chance to chat about normal things – the weather, the plants in the garden or the answer to 12 across. My father-in-law died of cancer and I know from that that people don’t want to be reminded they are poorly all the time. That sense of normality is what me and the Get Creative team offer.
I've been volunteering at Thorpe Hall Hospice on Mondays and Tuesdays for six months now. The team of staff and volunteers are a big family and I think it’s not only the patients who benefit.
I get so much out of my time at Thorpe Hall. It really does feel like a privilege to spend time in the hospice with the patients.
I never walk out of here feeling glum or down; in fact, it’s a really good reminder of what is and isn’t important – and to make the best of things.
Do you have skills you could offer your local Sue Ryder care centre?
Cristina has been offering Thorpe Hall Hospice residents her hairdressing skills and company since January 2017.