We had a chat with the lovely Penny Gillett about her almost 30 years of volunteering at the Tea&Co café in Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridgeshire. We talked about rescuing an unfortunate fellow volunteer, the new Tea&Co café brand and the joys of volunteering.
What motivated you to begin?
“My children were all off-hand, and I had worked in charity shops as well but that was not for me, so somebody suggested the canteen at the hospital and that’s where I went! Combined with the charity shops I’ve actually been volunteering for more than 30 years.”
What’s your strongest memory from volunteering?
“Well, that’s a bit hard to say. I suppose the best thing is that we meet so many nice people, the ladies I have worked with, the people that run the kitchen and mostly there is the customers. Every week you chat with somebody that seem very grateful for what you are doing. It’s just what keeps you coming back.”
That sounds great. Has anything dramatic ever happened?
“Oh yes, I do remember this story strongly. One of our ladies was taken very ill and no doctors were able or nearby to see her immediately in the café. Really, nobody was around. It turned out she was having a heart attack in the kitchen, so I quickly found a wheelchair, put the poor lady in it and then I ran! I ran to A&E with her in the wheelchair and I went to the back entrance because I knew where it was. This was urgent, but the doctors and nurses were ready and the lady was taken away from me immediately as I arrived. They helped her and she was all okay in the end.”
Wow, it’s good that everything turned out well.
“Luckily most days are much more peaceful.”
The café has just been refurbished under the new Tea&Co concept. Can you tell me more about it?
“It looks far, far better than the old shop. I mean, it looks very professional and it’s good to have some healthier food options, that’s a brilliant idea. As long as we still have a few comfort foods too, because some people are ill and want something comforting to eat. But I think the focus on healthier options is a great idea.”
What are the options like now?
“There are a lot more healthy options and then there are still stands with cakes and so on. It looks lovely and people can still get things like sausage rolls but I they are based on healthier recipes now. On the whole I think it’s all good with the new menus.”
Do you think it’ll be easier to cater for diets like gluten-free, lactose-free etc.?
“I have noticed that there are more gluten-free items and I’m very aware of it, because I have two people in my family that can only eat gluten-free food. I’m very much aware of it and I think the range is very good.”
Thank you. Can I ask what you have gained from being a volunteer?
“Oh dear, it’s hard to put into words… I have really enjoyed the ladies I have worked with. You get quite a strong bond with people because you volunteer there every week with the same people. It is meeting people every week and doing something that is of a tiny bit of help. I think that’s all you can do in life, really. I do enjoy it.”
“You’re helping someone else. By the end of every shift, you realise how lucky you are, because there are other people coming in that are ill. You see people with quite bad illnesses and people who are caring for other people. You know, I’m very lucky that I’m able to stand here and volunteer”.
Can you recommend volunteering?
“I absolutely thoroughly do! I always recommend it to people. Normally, anybody that starts really likes it. I really hope this café will have volunteers far into the future.”
You can meet Penny and the other RVS volunteers at the Tea&Co café in Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
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