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Giving up his Christmas Day to help care for end of life patients at Ashgate Hospice has become a regular part of long-serving volunteer Paul Cocker’s yearly festivities.
The 71-year-old, who is set to reach 30 years of service at the hospice in April next year, will be one of many volunteers giving up his time this Christmas so the hospice can keep on caring.
Ward Volunteer Paul, who takes meal and drink orders from patients and families staying on the hospice’s Inpatient Unit, joined Ashgate in 1993 to help him get over the death of his father.
This year will be the ninth time he volunteers on Christmas Day – and, as always, he plans to arrive dressed to the nines in his Santa hat, elf apron and singing antlers.
Paul says volunteering at Christmas is something he loves doing so he can help put a smile on patients’ faces.
The former glassworker, from Chesterfield, said: “I have this ability to make most people laugh, smile or snigger – either at me or with me! As you can imagine, many of the patients would rather be at home but they are just too poorly to be discharged.
“If I can go up into people’s rooms on the Inpatient Unit and lift their spirits then that’s great. Lifting people’s spirits on Christmas is a wonderful thing to do and it’s what the festive season is all about.
“The atmosphere is always great and everyone does their best to lift people who are experiencing difficult circumstances.
“It’s worth giving up my Christmas Day to come in because I’m able to make a difference to people. I only volunteer once a fortnight so there’s a chance I won’t see some people again, but if I can help put a smile on people’s faces then that’s all that matters.”
Paul will be at the hospice in Old Brampton, Chesterfield, between 8am and 2pm on Christmas Day this year.
One patient he’ll never forget is Ashgate’s Healthcare Assistant Sarah Warner’s stepdad, Rob Holmes, who spent his last Christmas surrounded by his family, before he died on Boxing Day, aged 56.
Sarah, who has since joined as a volunteer before becoming a full-time staff member, recalls the moment Paul helped shine a light on her family’s Christmas.
She said: “I remember Christmas morning; I was coming back from the family room, and I looked up to see Paul wearing antlers and funny glasses!
“It set me off laughing, then me and my mum wondered what was going on. Shortly after, Paul came into the room, so she saw for herself. I thanked him for making me laugh when I didn’t think it was possible.
“When I came to work at Ashgate, I mentioned it to him, and he remembered straight away and gave me a cuddle. We even took a selfie together on the first Christmas Day I worked here with our antlers on.
“That’s where my love of Ashgate came from. I wanted to give something back which is why I started volunteering.”
Paul, who is one of 600 people volunteering at the hospice, visits Ashgate every other Sunday to help the team care for patients.
He puts his three decades of volunteering down to “being part of a special team” and is urging other people across North Derbyshire to give up some time to help out if they can.
“Being part of a team is the most rewarding part of volunteering at Ashgate Hospice. Everyone helps one another out; you’re never a one-man band and we all just bounce off each other!
“Not only is volunteering something I’ve enjoyed over the years, but I have a lot of respect for the things it’s taught me.
“The training helped me and my wife Joan care for my mum and keep her at home before she died which I will be eternally grateful for.
“I can’t recommend volunteering at the hospice enough and popping in to ask if I could help out back in 1993 is one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Anyone interested in volunteering at Ashgate Hospice can find more about the roles available on the hospice’s website.