Volunteers' Week 2021: Longest serving volunteer helps families with a seriously ill child

A Winchester woman who is celebrating her tenth anniversary volunteering for Rainbow Trust, is calling on more volunteers to come forward and help support families with a seriously ill child.

Annabel, an ex-midwife and mum of three, has volunteered for Rainbow Trust since 2011 when she became the first volunteer to directly support families with a life-threatened or terminally ill child.

Annabel says: “I became involved with Rainbow Trust after attending a fundraising event and hearing that the charity was planning to introduce volunteers to work with families. Eighteen months later it happened and in 2011 I was the first volunteer to be placed with a Family Support Worker.

I love my role - as a volunteer I can be asked to do virtually anything, from being another pair of hands for the Family Support Worker, to shaking collecting tins in shopping malls! My role is incredibly varied – I visit children in hospital, help run family events, listen to mothers’ and fathers’ worries and play with the children, allowing parents to have some time together.

During the pandemic I supported a family who had a young child at the end of life.

"I was able to continue visiting but with very tight COVID restrictions which was hard for the family. I was able to visit outside with mask and gloves and play and chat with the sibling. Delivering food and post office runs were a weekly task. With another family I talked to the mother fortnightly on the telephone which she enjoyed as she said it was her time to be able to chat about her concerns and worries and sit down for half an hour.”

Undoubtedly the best thing about my role is being with the children - whether it’s the ill child or the well siblings, I find they have so much enthusiasm and resilience and I just love giving them a happy time for the few hours I have with them.

The hardest part of my role is supporting a family who have lost a child. The sadness is immense and helping the family cope with their loss and grief never gets easier. I was very honoured and privileged to be asked by one of the families I volunteer with, to read a poem at their daughter’s funeral - I think this is testimony of how we are valued, trusted and part of the family in difficult times.

Rainbow Trust fills a gap for the families it supports and knowing that I am making a difference to a family by volunteering is a great feeling. I would urge anyone interested in volunteering to get in touch and find out more about this wonderfully rewarding role.”

Maddie Thomas, Rainbow Trust Volunteer Development Manager says, “Volunteers' Week is an opportunity for Rainbow Trust to really celebrate our brilliant volunteers and say a massive thank you to them for their continued help and dedication. Our family volunteers, like Annabel, make an enormous impact and have helped us continue to reach families who have had to deal with the immense pressure and stress of the pandemic, on top of coping with their child’s illness. We would love to hear from anyone who would like to get involved and join Annabel and our team of incredible volunteers.”

To find out more about volunteering with families who have a seriously ill child, contact Maddie Thomas at [email protected].