A tireless charity volunteer with a passion for helping others has described her role as an “extraordinary privilege” and an integral part of her life. Former headteacher Margaret Hickman Smith is one of the longest-serving East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) volunteers, having been helping for 17 years.
She gives her time to support the charity at bereavement, parent, child and grandparent support groups, as well as sibling events and all sorts of other family gatherings at The Nook and formerly Quidenham. In that time, she has made countless cups of tea, prepared endless arts and crafts activities and generally helped however she can.
“I don’t regret a second of it and consider myself very lucky,” said kind-hearted Margaret, 80.
“I’ve done a whole range of things but when I first started, I had absolutely no idea it would become such a big and important part of my life. It’s been a learning curve and I’ve learnt lots about myself, as well as other people.
“I don’t consider what I do to be anything special. I just like to think it helps and makes a difference in some small way. For me, it’s such a privilege and I’ve experienced so much through EACH.
“I’ve met people I wouldn’t otherwise have met – staff, fellow volunteers and families – and what I do is very personal to me. It’s been extraordinary and it’s only now, when I look back, that I realise how much I’ve experienced.
“It’s incredibly rewarding and every time I see one particular grandmother she gives me a big hug and tells me she’ll never forget my life-saving cups of tea!”
Margaret, who lives in Forncett St Peter, has seen plenty of change in nearly two decades of volunteering. EACH has grown significantly, including The Princess of Wales, then The Duchess of Cambridge, opening The Nook, in Framingham Earl, in November 2019.
“It’s an unbelievable place and very different to the former hospice at Quidenham,” said Margaret, who is married to Terry, has two daughters, Kath and Vic, and four grandchildren, Jacob, 13, Ella, ten, Theo, seven, and Nina, four.
“The atmosphere is incredible – just as it was at the old hospice, which was also a very special place. EACH has changed and grown so much in my 17 years.
“However, the core values are exactly the same and it’s about providing the very best quality of care and support. That’s always been the case. The staff are at the centre of everything that happens and their dedication, care, love and support has transferred from one place to another.
“I first got involved after spotting an advert calling for volunteers. I’d just retired, having spent my working life as a teacher, latterly as a headteacher. In my last couple of years, we had a very sad incident where the brother of one of my pupils was tragically killed in a car crash.
“I felt ill-equipped to deal with it and, although we all did the best we could, it planted a seed in my head that, after retiring, there might be something in the volunteering sector I could do. Despite spending a lifetime in teaching, I knew nothing about children with complex health needs and life-threatening conditions.
“I wanted to help in some way and then I saw the advert asking for volunteers. Volunteering here meant I could still be around children, but in a totally different environment.”
Margaret’s volunteering has brought her into contact with countless children, young people and families, not to mention EACH staff. And despite nearly two decades of unstinting support, she has no plans to call it a day anytime soon.
“It’s something I’ll always do, as long as I’m needed and wanted and as long as my health allows,” she said.
“I certainly don’t have any plans to stop. For me, volunteering is such a vitally important thing to do. So many families depend on the care and support they receive from EACH.
“It doesn’t have to be in one of the hospices. There’s a whole range of things you can do with opportunities to help in one of the shops, at an event or by signing up for EACH’s Help at Home scheme. It really depends on what you want to do and what you’re interested in, but my advice would be to give it a try.”