Long-serving Carolyn Kirby has spoken of the pride and sense of achievement she feels from volunteering at a leading children’s hospice. The green-fingered 72-year-old gives up her time every Monday to help maintain the grounds at Milton.
She supports the East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) Facilities team and it is a role she has been dutifully fulfilling since 2004.
“I enjoy working in the garden, being in the fresh air and the company of fellow volunteers,” said Carolyn, who lives in Impington.
“Over the years, others signed up and some of us committed to coming in every week, so we could work together as a team. It meant we could share the workload, learn from each other, highlight any issues and pass them on to relevant staff members.
“There’s a strong friendship between our group. We work hard and get lots of fresh air, even in the cold of wintertime. There can be a real sense of achievement and, whatever the season, we get to enjoy the beautiful trees and flowers.
“It’s a special, quiet and peaceful space to pursue whatever tasks we’ve set ourselves, either on our own or with others. We break mid-morning and have a good chat over coffee and biscuits.
“Occasionally we visit other gardens when the opportunity arises so what is there not to like? I’d recommend it to anyone and would encourage others to try their hand, regardless of age. We’d certainly benefit from having more regular helpers.
“We must be doing something right as, between us, the group has clocked up 90+ years of volunteering, adding together the length of time each of us has been coming back for more.”
Carolyn first became aware of Milton in 2004, when attending a course run by garden designer Anna McArthur. Anna was responsible for the original design for the sensory garden at the hospice, sponsored by the charity Greenfingers.
She asked if anyone could help out with planting up the new garden and Carolyn thought it would be interesting to find out more and get involved.
“I still have the original design which shows what plants were to go where,” she said.
“There were so many I’d never heard of, or seen before, so when I found out there weren’t any volunteers to look after the amazing space we’d just planted, I thought I’d at least try to keep them alive until they were established.
“As I came to know the gardens better, learning so much along the way, I kept coming back to see how everything was getting on. It was a bit like having an extended garden family!
“Occasionally, we’ve been able to purchase new plants for the sensory garden and other areas such as the courtyard. We’re given quite a lot of freedom with the actual gardening and are trusted to do what’s needed in the plant borders.
“My favourite areas change depending on the season, starting with sparkling snowdrops around the sensory garden and elsewhere in the earliest part of the year. We have the bright colours of the spring flowers, daffodils and tulips, lighting up the garden in March and April.
“Then we have the lovely scented tresses of purple flowering wisteria appearing in the courtyard in April and May, followed by the welcome green shade created by its foliage after the first flush of flowers.
“As a bonus, there’s also a second lesser flowering later in the summer. Perhaps this is my favourite as I chose and planted this beautiful specimen in 2008. Together with other helpers, I train and prune it to fill the space it occupies today.”
EACH supports families and cares for children and young people with life-threatening conditions. In addition to Milton, it has two other hospice, in Norfolk and Suffolk. Each has its own dedicated team of gardening volunteers.
Meanwhile, EACH’s latest Be the Difference campaign – a fortnight-long drive to recruit more volunteers for its 46 shops – runs until Sunday (21st May).
The charity relies on voluntary donations for the majority of its income and, this year alone, needs to raise £6.5 million from its Retail operation, which includes stores across Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex and a busy Retail Distribution Centre, in Thetford.
For more information about volunteering, speak to a member of staff in-store or contact volunteer services on 01223 205183. Alternatively, email email@example.com