“I’m constantly in awe…” Jeff Southon, volunteer services manager, shares his thoughts

Jeff Southon is Pilgrims’ Volunteer Services & HR Manager and is responsible for developing volunteer services and processes for the more than 1,500 Pilgrims volunteers across east Kent. Jeff previously worked as Head of HR for another hospice in Dartford and Gravesend before moving to Pilgrims in 2015.

Jeff talks about his job and the incredible work Pilgrims’ volunteers do…

What struck you about Pilgrims when you first joined?

What immediately stood out was the sheer amount of volunteers and the range of roles they undertake! We’ve just over 1500 volunteers and about 750 are based in 32 shops. The rest are at the three hospices undertaking a range of activities, or are community fundraisers or are fundraising event supporters.

What does a typical volunteer do?

Our volunteers undertake a range of roles, it’s very diverse. From meeting and greeting people on the three hospice receptions, working in shops, supporting and marshalling events, arranging flowers, gardeners, catering assistants, complementary therapists, counsellors, hairdressers, administrators in all departments, money/donation counters, collections at events and supermarkets… 

Then there are our Ambassadors who spread the word about the hospice, raising its profile and collecting cheques from organisations and individuals who have raised money for us.

What contributions do volunteers make?

Volunteers are completely integral to the smooth running of the hospice. There is no doubt at all that without them we would could not raise the £11m we need each year in order to provide our services to patients and their families.

Volunteers bring a variety of skills and we look for opportunities to utilise their skills in order to make a positive difference. However, the most valuable attributes they can bring to the hospice are their commitment to the ethos of the charity and a positive approach to whatever role they undertake.

What can volunteers expect when they first join? What support do they get?

All volunteers receive an induction into the charity and have a named manager/supervisor/key worker from whom they receive support and guidance. Managers have lead responsibility for ensuring that volunteers feel part of their teams and receive appropriate communications.

We also have regular Volunteer Forums at each hospice and each shop has a bi-monthly meeting with their manager. At least twice a year there are ‘thank you events’, such as a dinner at Christmas and a summer tea party or BBQ.

This year, to encourage a ‘one workforce’ approach, the summer events will be a joint staff and volunteer ‘Paella and Pimms’ event. There is also a quarterly volunteer newsletter which covers organisational issues, news about our events and even some gardening tips!

We’re also starting to develop some specific volunteer training programmes which is a very exciting development!

Jeff Southon (centre) with volunteers Terry and Maureen Smith.

What has been your most satisfying moment so far?

There have been many, too many to mention!  I am constantly in awe of the fact that so many people give so much of their time for free to support the charity. Their dedication and determination to do a good job and make a positive difference, in whatever role they undertake, can be extremely inspiring.

What are the benefits of volunteering?

Volunteering can have a great many benefits for people. It can reduce social isolation, create friendship groups, help people to improve self-confidence and develop new skills which can improve their employability. People can use their professional skills for the benefit of others. Volunteering can be fun, while helping people at the heart of their own communities. There is evidence which suggests that volunteering has a positive effect on a person’s health and wellbeing generally.

I have no doubt that volunteering can be addictive for some people. There are many of our volunteers who spend a great deal of time supporting us, with a good many of those undertaking multiple roles. They clearly get a feeling of self-worth and pride and can see the difference the work they do makes to people, as well as having a positive impact on their own wellbeing – basically they just thoroughly enjoy what they do!

Have you ever been on the other side of the fence as a volunteer?

I have been a school governor on two occasions and also a non-executive director of a social enterprise which provides meals to schools. I also support quite a lot of our events, usually as a marshal. I learnt that I got a great deal of satisfaction from being able to use my experience and skills to improve children’s education through good governance and, at the social enterprise, it was rewarding to be able to ensure that school children were able to access wholesome and cost effective school dinners across Kent.

What tips do you have for those thinking about volunteering?

Try it! It’s not for everyone, but have a go and see what happens, it’s very likely that you will enjoy what you are doing, working with like-minded people who also enjoy their roles.

What’s been the greatest piece of advice you’ve had in terms of how to effectively manage and get the most out of volunteers?

Listen to them and the suggestions they have for improving things, understand their motivation, make sure they feel valued and appreciated every time they volunteer, not just at formal events. And reinforce the positive differences they make to the people they support, i.e. our patients, carers and family members in east Kent.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a Pilgrims’ volunteer, visit our Volunteers page for more information.