Barbara Hicks-Ussher has contributed to various volunteer roles at North Haven Hospice over the years. Photo / Tania Whyte
After more than 36 years of volunteering at North Haven Hospice, Whangārei local Barbara Hicks-Ussher has decided it’s time to “leave while the going is going good”.
Hicks-Ussher is one of the longest-serving volunteers, starting with the organisation when it was at the old Medical Superintendent’s house on the Whangārei Hospital grounds.
Since then she has contributed to various volunteer roles – patient-facing, fundraising and, most recently, as a “shop girl” at the North Haven Hospice stores.
She said the most rewarding has been helping the inpatients.
“That was our thruster, to get a unit where we could have inpatients and people could stay when they were quite ill.”
Today, the North Haven Hospice inpatient unit in Tikipunga has six beds. It is the only inpatient unit for palliative care for all of Northland outside the Whangārei Hospital.
Hicks-Ussher first heard about hospice while travelling around New Zealand in a campervan with her husband, Ralph. There was a story on the radio about how hospice started.
She decided then she would look for a hospice in Whangārei.
At the time, the North Haven Hospice mostly provided daycare and was only able to look after one patient during the night.
When on night duty, Hicks-Ussher would come straight from work to care for the patient. As there was no funding at that stage, she would bring dinner for the patient and herself.
She said it was a bit scary up at the Medical Superintendent’s house so Ralph would come to stay, which led him to volunteer at hospice as well.
From there, “I just got stuck. It is like when you join a club. You just keep going.”
“Eventually, I went into the hospice shop because I had never been a shop girl. I had always worked in offices,” Hicks-Ussher said.
“I thought I wouldn’t mind ringing the till. That would be fun.”
She said the experience has been rewarding because you are doing something for the people in your own community.
It has also been a way for her to develop a social group.
On her last day, a farewell afternoon tea was held at the shop for Hicks-Ussher. Her husband and brother both attended. She received a massive card with kind messages signed by those she has volunteered alongside.
“I was quite blown away, actually.”
Hicks-Ussher still plans to go to the shop to join morning tea on a Tuesday. However, she is looking forward to having more time to join local activity groups and enjoy walking.
In March 2022, North Haven Hospice held an event for volunteers who had exceeded 20 years of service. There were 13 who had reached the milestone.
Volunteers contribute an estimated $4 million worth of time each year to North Haven Hospice, which is vitally needed.