Volunteers’ Week: Meet our volunteer Paula

A career in nursing and an interest in bereavement led Paula to HOLG

For 34 years, Paula Blanchette was an NHS nurse, working at King’s College Hospital, London. Although she was a general nurse, most of her career was spent working on the neonatal unit, followed by her last few years as part of the bereavement team.
It was this last role that inspired Paula to take early retirement from the NHS to retrain as a bereavement counsellor.
Four and a half years ago when she first found out about HOLG whilst looking for some paid work online, she was already a volunteer bereavement counsellor for another couple of charities and although she wasn’t looking for any more volunteering, she felt drawn to HOLG and finding out more about what we do.

We asked her a bit about her role:

What volunteering do you do with us?
I work with the older children who attend our monthly bereavement support weekends, supporting them through the activities, talking to them, listening and ensuring they get the most from the two days as they possibly can.
We are very creative, we make things, play music and use art to express thoughts and feelings – this seems especially useful for the older group of young people in helping them to communicate how they feel in their own unique way, particularly if conversation feels challenging for them at times.

How much time do you give to HOLG?
I try to attend as many of the monthly bereavement support weekends as I can, so will usually not make plans on those weekends so that I can go.

What do you like about volunteering with HOLG?
HOLG is a lovely charity and when I first saw the advert for volunteers, I just couldn’t resist wanting to find out more.
I started off in the kitchens, making snacks and drinks, and playing with the children at playtime, but later started to do the one-to-one work which I really do enjoy.
The team is so professional and knowledgeable – and really do respect the volunteers, treating them like one of the team. We are always thanked and feel appreciated, but more than that, we don’t feel there is a hierarchy – we all know our roles and do what we can each weekend to pitch in and do what needs to be done.

How does it make you feel when you’re working with a child?
Having the opportunity to spend two whole days with a child, allowing them to explore their thoughts and feelings, hear them say things they haven’t wanted to, or felt able to before and really start to move through their bereavement is amazing.
The charity has such a wonderful set-up that the change we see in the children, even the most traumatised youngsters, is magical.

What would you say to someone considering a bereavement support weekend for their child?
I would say that every child I have seen, has progressed with their bereavement at the end of the two days.
They are thoroughly indulged at the weekends, allowed to choose what they want to do, but always sticking within the boundaries, because there is this mutual respect and trust between them and the staff and volunteers.
The children become free spirits, able to open up and simply let go – of thoughts and feelings, and know that it is OK to say what they are feeling without upsetting anyone, realising that many of the other children feel as they do.
You can see the children almost breathing a sigh of relief when they start to let go and it’s so wonderful.

What would you say to someone thinking of volunteering with HOLG?
There are many roles at HOLG and not all, like the one-to-one work would be suitable for everyone, but the charity has lots to do, so the kitchen volunteers are vital to make sure we are all kept fed and watered, the fundraisers ensure the funding is available and drivers help to get everything in place where we need it.
They have chosen their team very carefully, to have perfect people in place for each job and event.
As a charity, they are lovely to work for – a place where everyone is made to feel valued, appreciated and welcome so I would recommend them to anyone who has an interest in working with children.

You can find out about volunteering here.