As Volunteers’ Week starts today, PETER BARRON shines the spotlight on a wonderful North-East woman who devotes her time, energy and talent to one of the region’s best-loved charities
AMONG the pile of memories Lisa Ward has kept from her time spent as a volunteer at her local hospice is a ‘Thank you’ card. It’s from the staff and has a simple but heartfelt message inside: What would we do without you?
As Volunteers’ Week begins today, it’s a sentiment that could be applied to millions of volunteers who do so much to bind the country together and add billions of pounds to the economy.
And Lisa, who is marking 20 years as a volunteer for Butterwick Hospice Care, at Stockton, embodies what that priceless army of unsung heroes stand for: dedication, selflessness, courage, and kindness.
“I always go in with a smile on my face, trying to take a bit of happiness with me, then my car holds the tears because I do my crying on the way home,” she says.
It’s not easy being a volunteer in a hospice, especially in the children’s unit, where Lisa has become part of the team, but she does it week in, week out because it’s part of who she is.
“My Mam always told me that when you have enough for yourself, you give the rest away,” she adds. “Being a volunteer gives me a balance for the way I lead my life because I get so much out of it too.”
Despite suffering from multiple health challenges of her own, Lisa is a creative force of nature, with boundless energy, an easy smile, fun personality, and a gift for being able to talk to anyone.
She lives in a bungalow, surrounded by things – a treasure trove of arts, crafts, antiques and bric-a-brac – she’s collected, and made, during a life that reaches the 50 mark this month.
There’s hardly an inch to spare on the walls, but a picture of her late parents, Margaret and Tom Ward, has pride of place.
The couple adopted Lisa as a baby after she’d been born in Durham. Her mother was a German woman, who already had a two-year-old and couldn’t cope with another child. Margaret and Tom brought Lisa home to Stockton, surrounded her with love, and will always be her Mam and Dad.
Growing up, she was always aware of the Butterwick Hospice in the days when it was in Bishopton Lane, close to where she lived. It had moved there in 1988 – into the old St Paul’s Convent – after originally being opened in Hartburn Lane four years earlier, thanks to the generosity and vision of Mary Butterwick, who sold her home to fund the hospice after her husband, John, died of cancer.
In 1997, it moved again, to a purpose-built hospice next to the University Hospital of North Tees. The children’s unit opened a year later, and ‘The Butterwick’ also has a hospice at Bishop Auckland.
After art college, Lisa got a job as a buyer for Xerox in London, first in London, then nearer home in Newcastle. At the time, she had a pharmacist friend, Andrew, who delivered medical supplies to the hospice, then used to go back in the evening to help out and hold hands with the patients.
He inspired Lisa to volunteer as a tea lady at St Oswald’s Hospice, in Newcastle, and, when Andrew passed away suddenly, she vowed to carry on his work at The Butterwick. She started there on March 5, 2002, and quickly made an impact with staff and patients.
She brought all ages together to make arts and crafts – including greetings cards and Easter bonnets made out of disposable sick-bowls – and printed out songsheets for singalongs with makeshift cardboard microphones.
After two years devoted to day-care, she was encouraged to transfer to the children’s unit, but was worried she’d find it too upsetting.
“Eventually, I went in for a look around and realised how beautiful it was. It wasn’t a sad place – it was a place for living,” she explains.
She went on to volunteer in the children’s unit for 18 years: helping to comfort the young patients, and again making the most of her arts and crafts skills. One of her specialities was making cards, using the children’s own handprints and footprints, and she’d also bake with them, sing with them, or play musical instruments.
Other contributions have included painting murals, organising visits by the likes of the police and fire service, and making teas and lunches for staff. Indeed, she’s become well known for her home-made marmalade, scones, and Fat Rascals, which she firmly insists are “every bit as good as Betty’s, you know!”
As well as devoting lots of her time – usually 12-7pm at least once a week – she’s lost count of how much money she’s raised through various activities. Much of it has contributed to the general “care pot” to help meet the never-ending costs associated with running a hospice. But she also started the fund to buy a minibus and has bought a fridge, dishwasher, microwaves, and other kitchen equipment to make life easier. On Captain Tom Moore’s 100th birthday, she raised £350 by making 100 scones.
She admits it can be distressing, but she also considers it to be “a privilege” to be with the families.
“I remember a baby coming in, about three-months-old, with parents who were in their early twenties. The mum asked if I wanted a cuddle and handed the baby to me. That was a very special moment you can never forget. Not everyone gets to experience that in their lives.”
It’s seven years since Mary Butterwick died, aged 91, and Lisa still misses her presence. Indeed, it was Lisa who started the process to make Mary a Dame, only for her to pass away before the process was complete.
“I got to know her really well and visited her every Christmas. She was my mentor, my dear friend, and she’ll always be my inspiration,” says Lisa. “Whatever I’m needed for, I’ll do it for Mary, the patients, and the staff – because your heart feels at peace when you become a volunteer.”
Volunteering Week might fall in the first week in June, but volunteers, like Lisa Ward, are stars who deserve our thanks all year round.
What would we do without them?