VOLUNTEERS play a crucial role in the operation of Highland Hospice, with more than 800 people donating their time free to help save the charity in excess of £900,000 each year.
The volunteers help in a variety of ways, both in the Inverness base and throughout the Highlands in the charity's 11 shops.
Voluntary services co-ordinator Emily Forbes is full of praise for the invaluable contribution made by the volunteers, some of whom have been working in the hospice since it opened its doors 25 years ago.
"I started at Highland Hospice in June, and my time so far has been busy but extremely rewarding," Emily says. "I am still astounded at the generosity of our 800-plus volunteers who give up their time each week to help keep the hospice running.
"Without these generous people the hospice simply couldn't run in the same way, and their voluntary hours help save us such a massive amount of money each year."
Emily explains that the dependability of the volunteers makes her job easier.
"My daily duties consistently change, but myself and my colleague Maria Cuthbert need to ensure all our volunteer shifts are covered to allow the hospice to continue operating effectively each week," she says.
"This is quite a difficult task as we have such a large number of volunteers, but this part of our job is made a lot easier as our volunteers are so reliable, and we have a large number of people who have been covering the same shifts for several years."
Despite the large number of volunteers at the moment, Highland Hospice is always in need of further help as its services continue to expand.
"We are always in need of new volunteers to help either with regular shifts or on a reserve basis," Emily says. "We have a large variety of roles to cover – from helping at our reception to flower-arranging, and from volunteer drivers to helping at fundraising events.
"Although a large number of our volunteers help at our Inverness base, we also need around 450 people throughout the Highland community to help keep our 11 shops running. At the moment we particularly need help in the Thurso shop, as well as help from people with specialist knowledge of antiques, coins and stamp collections to advise on donations that come in to our stores."
People choose to volunteer for Highland Hospice for a number of reasons – but the benefits the volunteers talk about are often very similar, as Emily explains.
"Volunteering with Highland Hospice can give people the opportunity to meet new friends, and often our volunteers talk about enjoying the social aspect that comes with their role.
"Also, many of our volunteers tell us about the sense of satisfaction they get by helping the hospice as they feel they are doing something useful and giving something back to the Highland community.
"For our younger volunteers, it can give them a great opportunity to gain new skills and valuable work experience which could enhance their CV in the difficult job market. And that's a really important point – we have volunteers of all ages helping here, all bringing their own skills and experience to the hospice.
"It only takes as little as three or four hours a week to become part of the team, and I cannot stress enough the importance of every single volunteer to Highland Hospice. So, if you are interested in helping, please get in touch."
Why do you volunteer at Highland Hospice?
"Driving the hospice van is really enjoyable. Not only do I get to meet many lovely people every time I'm out, I also get to admire beautiful scenery all over the Highlands. I'm just happy to help in any way I can." – Donnie Grant, volunteer van driver
"I find the way patients help each other humbling and the way they let me share this precious time." – Floris Calderwood, day hospice volunteer
"I volunteer as I like seeing the excellent care given by all the nursing and medical staff to the patients and their families." – Chrissie Bergamini, healthcare support volunteer
"I started volunteering at Highland Hospice to gain experience in caring for people as I wanted to get into that field of work, and I have enjoyed every minute of it so far as everyone I have met has been so friendly." – Emma Foster, day hospice and coffee shop volunteer
"Enjoying my work here makes me feel very humble and I have made lots of friends too." – Doreen Sutherland, volunteer receptionist
"I like being able to help, and I like being able to give something back to the hospice as I lost a loved one here." – Mary Crayk, coffee shop volunteer
Margaret MacLeod, of Camesky Road, Caol, Fort William, is the latest £500 winner of Hospice Lucky Numbers.