On Tuesday 30 August 2022, Chief Nursing Officer for England, Dame Ruth May, visited H4All at Key House in Yiewsley to learn about the ways in which local charities are coming together to support those in need across Hillingdon.

Dame Ruth May (second from the left) met with leaders from local charities and volunteers at Key House in Yiewsley.

H4All is a group of charities working to support people across the London Borough of Hillingdon with all aspects of health and wellbeing. Made up of Harlington Hospice, Carers Trust Hillingdon, DASH, Hillingdon Mind and Age UK Hillingdon, Harrow and Brent, H4All provides services including counselling, wellbeing workshops, lung health screenings, social prescribing, and a Volunteer Hub which sources and assigns volunteers to support a wide range of community initiatives. H4All’s focus is to tackle the social issues that relate to the wider determinants of health whilst supporting and empowering local people to better manage their own health and wellbeing. Through this work, they deliver £2.1 million of NHS contracts each year. One of their recent projects, Compassionate Hillingdon, captured the imagination of Dame Ruth and brought her to meet with volunteers and representatives from all of the H4All partners to learn more.

Compassionate Hillingdon first piloted in 2022 and supports people aged 18+ in the community who are facing a life-limiting illness, are at the end of their life, are older, or are struggling with loneliness and isolation. The project assigns a Compassionate Friend to people referred to the service. The Compassionate Friend is a volunteer who is linked-up with a person after consideration of the person’s own unique needs and aspirations. The Compassionate Friend will then support them through regular visits or phone calls, going on days out or attending appointments, and offering support around areas of life that have become frightening or difficult. Between January and June 2022, Compassionate Friends supported 126 people ranging from people in their 20s to people in their 90s, with 1100 contacts. Karen Bonnick, Compassionate Hillingdon’s Project Coordinator, explained, "It’s not about one person supporting one person, it’s about supporting the community as a whole."

At Key House, Dame Ruth also heard from two Compassionate Friend volunteers, Andy and David. Andy, who is now retired from a career in social work, shared, “Before social work I did voluntary work. Soon after I retired, my wife got cancer and died just over five and a half years ago. I suppose volunteering has been part of finding a new life after bereavement. I was very keen to get involved with Compassionate Friends. I very much see volunteering as filling in some of the cracks between the various professional agencies.”

David added, “I was a nurse for over twenty years mostly working in dementia care. I was then an advocate for a number of years but was forced to retire due to COVID. I feel in life there are always things that you do that are transferable and can be taken into other bits of life to benefit others. I am doing telephone work at the moment and seeing people in their homes. Someone I am going to see is a gardener, another chap was a model air craft flyer and I make model air crafts, another person I see I am helping with going through paperwork. They know you’re not going to let them down and you’re going to be there.”

Posters displaying some of the free wellbeing workshops offered by H4All to their local community.

The infrastructure behind H4All means that projects like Compassionate Hillingdon are able to form an essential layer of support for vulnerable people more easily and efficiently. Instead of being passed around different organisations, operating against the existing H4All backdrop means that people known to its partner charities can be referred on to services like Compassionate Hillingdon through the same referral. In other words, once people are known to H4All, the appropriate support from organisations across Hillingdon can be provided quickly through one point of contact. This is something that Sally Chandler, Chief Executive of Carers Trust Hillingdon and Director of H4All, highlighted at Key House, “It takes time to recruit volunteers, match people and train people. I’d like to stress that even running volunteer projects is resource intensive. The success of Compassionate Hillingdon is due to the way we (H4All) are structured and the way we work.”

Learning about H4All’s volunteer projects, it was clear that their services are a valuable resource to support the work of the NHS. The Chief Nursing Officer also prompted other discussions. Dame Ruth asked how local charities and the NHS can collaborate to support people through the cost-of-living crisis, and how women’s voices can be championed across health and wellbeing services.

Reflecting on the contribution of volunteers over the COVID-19 pandemic, including those registered with H4All’s Volunteer Hub, Dame Ruth commented, “What you did across the UK to support the NHS during COVID, including the work done in vaccination centres, made a massive difference. The UK could not have been the global leader we’ve been with the vaccination programme if it weren’t for volunteers. Thank you for what you’ve done over these last couple of years.”

More information

To find out more about H4All and how they could support you or your loved one on the H4All website or contact 01895 54 34 34 or [email protected]. You can learn more about Compassionate Hillingdon here.