Volunteer Sandy Harrison says that driving patients to South Bucks Hospice gives him an ‘amazing sense of fulfilment’. And now the 74-year-old former banker is urging others to consider volunteering roles at the charity because of the benefits it will bring to them and the people they help.
Sandy, a father-of-two and grandfather-of-four from Prestwood, started as a volunteer driver at the hospice after taking retirement aged 69 in 2017.
He had spent a successful and varied career, which included more than 30 years in a senior banking role. He later worked for an insolvency company, ran a London nightclub and set up his own business as a banking consultant. He also became an expert witness in the High Court, in the field of banking procedures.
His first major foray into volunteering came in 2012 when he was a Games Maker at the Paralympics in London, where he drove officials and VIPs around in a liveried BMW for three weeks. Scottish-born Sandy followed this up with similar volunteering stints at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and the World Athletics Championships in London in 2017.
But, despite his vast experience, working for the hospice gave him an entirely new perspective on life.
“Initially, I found it quite challenging because I wasn’t used to being in such close proximity with people with either life-changing or life-limiting illnesses,” he said. “But the reaction of the carers and families of the people we collected made me realise the value of the respite service because it gave them space where they didn’t have to worry about their loved ones and where they could try for some kind of normality.”
Sandy added: “I am naturally quite a chatty and outgoing person and I enjoy meeting with the people. Many of them have fascinating back stories and have done so many amazing things in so many different countries of the world – and it’s just fantastic to hear about them.
“The job was easier than I thought because the patients had an astonishing level of gratitude for what we were doing to get them in here. If we don’t collect them, then they cannot attend the hospice.”
He initially spent two days a week using his own car to drive patients to therapy and daycare sessions, before taking them home again. The job is unpaid apart from expenses although Sandy chooses not to claim these.
“I am in the fortunate position where I don’t need to claim expenses but quite understand if people need to claim and the opportunity to do so is there, which is good.”
His job changed dramatically with the onset of the pandemic in 2020. The hospice was closed for a period, but when activities began to resume, he was one of four experienced volunteer drivers asked back to assume a more difficult role.
“The requirements on us at the beginning were quite onerous and we were given intensive training. We had to wear full PPE and had to learn how to sanitise the insides of our vehicles as well as learning to take the temperature of the patients before they entered the car. It was a major commitment for about six months. Even though national Covid restrictions have been lifted now, I still sanitise the car and still wear masks.”
Sandy initially learnt about the role at the hospice when his wife, Mary, brought home a leaflet after hearing a speaker talk at a meeting in Amersham in 2017.
It was just after he had taken retirement and he knew he could fit in the work. It is a decision he has never regretted.
“I feel fortunate that I am able to facilitate the experience that the patients have here. Experiencing the gratitude of the people you bring in gives you an amazing sense of fulfilment that you are spending your time in a very worthwhile way and that you are able to help these people who otherwise would have no access to this facility.”
He believes that others would gain as much fulfilment from the job as he has, and he stresses that the role is flexible, meaning there is no minimum requirement on their time and they are free to turn down shifts they cannot do.
His message to potential volunteers is simple: “I think they should give it a go and should not be put off by the fact it’s a hospice. It’s an uplifting place and the patients are almost universally positive.”
To find out about volunteering opportunities at South Bucks Hospice, contact email@example.com