Bereaved mum Lesley Smith says volunteering for the charity that supported her family is a chance to “give something back” – and has become a key part of her life.
Lesley is a tireless and much-valued supporter of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH).
She recently received her five-year volunteering badge and says she will “wear it with pride”.
EACH helped Lesley, husband Steve and son Chris, 24, following the death of daughter Katie, in September 2011.
She had a rare form of sarcoma – a type of cancer that starts in tissues like bone or muscle – and was just 16.
The cancer had only been diagnosed the previous December.
“The support we received from the hospice was amazing,” said the 55-year-old, whose interview is being released to coincide with a special week-long campaign, encouraging more people to lend their support at this summer’s fundraising events.
“The staff looked after us superbly well and couldn’t have been more wonderful.
“EACH helped with the funeral arrangements and gave as much support as we needed, while also backing off and giving us space if we had something covered.
“After Katie passed, we spent two days together at The Treehouse, in Ipswich.
“The hospice helped us by doing memory-making activities, like painting a plate and helping with memory boxes.
“It also meant people from our wider family had time to come and visit.
“The care team were fabulous and did lots of things to help and support Chris, including going back a few months later to make Christmas decorations.
“There were lots of little things that made a big difference. They gave us so much.”
Understandably, Lesley needed a period to grieve for her daughter. She then reached a point where she felt the time was right to give something back and her volunteering journey began with a pantomime bucket collection at the Regent.
“It took me a while to feel ready and I needed time to grieve,” said Lesley.
“Then I reached a point where it felt right to be positive and pro-active and every time we volunteer we think of our daughter.
“It’s something we all feel very strongly about and volunteering has become a key part of our lives.
“I dipped my toe with a bucket collection at the Regent panto.
“It was such fun and I loved it, standing there in my Santa hat. Everyone was in such a great mood.
“After that, I got more information on other events and it snowballed from there.
“I have to juggle my commitments with work and it can be tricky to help at events in the week.
“However, I’ll always do whatever I can to help and fit things in.
“I feel very proud and worthy standing there wearing my tabard and whenever people come up and talk to me, I’m always very proud to say I’m representing EACH.
“I always get a positive reaction, too.
“All charities are wonderful, of course, but I have a special place in my heart for this one.”
Lesley has helped in various ways, from collections and helping at carol concerts to manning stalls and marshalling at fundraisers including the Whole Hog and Piglet Junior Hog events.
She also helped at EACH’s pop-up Christmas card shop in Woodbridge.
“I’d recommend volunteering to anyone,” she said.
“You can choose what events you’d like to help at and do as much or little as you have time for.
“There’s such a wide variety so many different options.
“Even just helping once every six months makes a difference and takes some of the pressure off the regulars.
“As much as anything, it’s just nice having fresh blood coming through, to know there’s a group of new volunteers ready to step into the breach.
“In terms of helping out, the more we can do the better and I hope to get more and more involved, as and when I have more time.
“The events are so much fun and I love being a marshal.
“You get all sorts of people taking part, of all different ages, and everyone looks so happy.
“It’s madness but so positive and leaves you on a real high.
“I always have a laugh and joke with people and it’s fun shouting ‘come on, keep going – you can do this’.”
EACH is planning a packed and varied schedule of fundraising events this year, with highlights being the Ride for Life cycle challenge (6th to 8th May), the Bury St Edmunds Splash Out! on 15th May, the Piglet Junior Hog children’s obstacle course on 3rd July and the Whole Hog (the adult version) on 9th October.
To find out more and register your interest in volunteering, head to www.each.org.uk/eventsvolunteer