Belinda O’Connell Gray, a receptionist at Saint Francis Hospice, on why she loves her job.

After having worked as a civil servant for 38 years, I started volunteering at the hospice on reception in July 2019. I lived locally and it felt really good to be giving something back and to be making a real difference to local people.

When a job came up in December 2019, I was lucky enough to get it. I love it here as I get to see how much it helps people who are very unwell.

When people think of a hospice they often think of sadness and it really isn’t the case. They don’t realise that patients often come in for help with medication and symptoms and are able to return home.

There are so many kind, friendly and committed people here and there is such a positive feeling as the staff and volunteers want to do the very best for patients, families and visitors.

I work part time and job share with my colleague Lisa and we are supported by the most amazing team of dedicated volunteers.

Barking and Dagenham Post: Belinda volunteered at Saint Francis Hospice before getting a job on receptionBelinda volunteered at Saint Francis Hospice before getting a job on reception (Image: St Francis Hospice)

Being on reception, we are the first point of contact for people coming through the entrance and they need to see a friendly face. You do not know what they are going to say or how they may be feeling so you have to be in control of your emotions so you can help them with whatever they need.

Everyone is different and we have to be able to adapt to meet everyone’s needs. It may be a patient arriving, a family member or friend visiting someone on the ward, or a supporter coming in to make a donation or sign up to a fundraising event or activity.

I always try and remember people’s names and be mindful of what they are going through and support them in any way I can.

The pandemic had a big impact on my role. I went on furlough from March to September last year and I really missed being at the hospice. So much has changed since being back at work.

We have to ensure everyone visiting the ward is wearing PPE and track everyone who comes in and out.

Patients and visitors used to like coming to reception and sitting down on the sofas to have a chat. We are not able to do that at the moment and I miss that.

Wearing a mask is a barrier to communication but we are able to connect with people by using our eyes and our body language.