People are often surprised by the range of volunteering opportunities available at Hospiscare. There is a wealth of roles that take place behind the scenes to create the warm and caring atmosphere that Hospiscare is so proud of. For those who visit Searle House, the hospice in Exeter, one of the first things that catches their attention is the flowers. Behind these vases and posies are a dedicated team of volunteers including firm friends Mo Rowe and Ruth Smith.
Mo describes Ruth as the “old hand” of their duo, as Ruth’s volunteering career with Hospiscare began over twenty years ago. After her husband died, Ruth began volunteering to arrange the flowers at Searle House on a Saturday. Ruth explains:
“It is a lovely experience and I have become really fond of coming in here. I look forward to it.”
Ruth’s enjoyment of her work at Searle House led her to approach her friend Mo after the death of Mo’s husband seven years ago. Ruth continues:
“I knew she was very interested in flowers so I asked her if she would like to come in and try volunteering.”
“We’re friends you see; we were friends before we volunteered together. We really enjoy volunteering here. I’m sure all the volunteers do otherwise they wouldn’t come!”
The idea, at first, had been to introduce Mo to the role of flower arranging so that she could continue independently but it turns out that the two ladies make “a very good double act!” Ruth explains:
“Not only do we do the arrangements and jobs together, but if one of us can’t make it that day, the other takes over.”
Seeing the arrangements on the tables and in the reception area, you would believe that these are made by someone with years of experience working with flowers. Although Mo and Ruth are not florists by profession, working with flowers has been a long-standing hobby for them both. Mo used to belong to a flower club and although Ruth is adamant that she hates gardening, she absolutely loves flowers and attributes her eye for flower arranging to her work with textiles as both celebrate her love of colour.
Mo and Ruth both thrive on the unpredictability of their role where, a ‘typical day’ does not seem to exist. Ruth says:
“We never know when we walk in on a Thursday what is going to be in the flower room! It can be absolutely huge arrangements and there is no room on the tables or it can be very little!
“We have to ad-lib with our arrangements; we don’t know what flowers are coming in, whether they’re tall or short or so on. We have to improvise but that’s part of the interest and fun of it!”
Part of the unpredictability of Mo and Ruth’s role is that the flowers are donated, rather than bought. Local supermarkets provide Searle House with flowers that have exceeded their expiry date and flowers are also donated from the public after weddings, parties and funerals. Through the kindness of these donations, Mo and Ruth are able to give the flowers a second life and bring their personal touch to Searle House.
Despite the unpredictability of a day’s flower arranging, Mo and Ruth have organised their many duties into a functioning routine. Ruth explains:
“We start our day doing the breakfast trays and then the hospice trays. Then I will do the flowers for the chapel and after that we will do the public rooms, like the reception area. After that, we go to the wards and change the water from the patients’ flowers and ask them if there is anything that they would like us to do. We never, ever throw away a patient’s flowers without asking because they may mean something special; they may be from their garden at home for example.”
Mo and Ruth have experienced misconceptions from friends about working for Hospiscare and they are quick to dispel these. Mo says:
“A friend of mine asked how I felt coming into Searle House in the beginning and I said I felt fine; it’s uplifting to be here.
“I think we are so lucky to have a place like this; it’s so different to being in a hospital as the care is so focused around making the best of their last moments of life. People still think that this is where you come to die and that isn’t always true.”
Ruth finishes by saying:
“It’s very rewarding volunteering here; there are people who have said to me ‘oh dear, I don’t know how you do it’ and I tell them that it’s nothing like that. You leave feeling very grateful, feeling humble, and very thankful that you can do things like this for people.”