Geoff Cousins Volunteer Banner With Title
Geoff Cousins Volunteer Banner With Title

Volunteer Role Keeps Geoff’s Mind Active

When Geoff Cousins retired from a career in finance six years ago, he knew he needed something to keep his brain ticking over.

He said: “Just sitting around or pottering in the garden all day long was not for me. I come from Gravesend so I have always known about the original Lions hospice and about ellenor. When I saw they had a volunteer financial support role vacancy on their website, it seemed the ideal thing to apply for.

“For me, it was a way to continue seeing people. It’s easy to lose that network of colleagues and friends when you finish work, and I wanted to keep seeing people face to face.”

Now Geoff dedicates the equivalent of about a day to the hospice every week, and his knowledge is vital to ellenor’s Financial Support Service. The service helps with benefits claims, grant applications, housing and health costs and transport concessions such as Blue Badges. It also offers support to patients and their families about working and pension rights, life insurance, wills and financial planning, although this often involves signposting the patient to an outside organisation or service.

Geoff said: “When people get something like a cancer diagnosis, budgeting and finance are not the first things on their minds. We often end up working with sons or daughters on behalf of their parents. If we just take a little of the burden away, then it’s worth it."

“It’s nice to be in a position where I can make a difference."

"There are also benefits for me, I’m doing something I feel is rewarding. I also wanted to volunteer for my own wellbeing, to keep my mind active. I started work at 16 and retired at 62, so that’s over 40 years working.

“The time commitment at ellenor does vary because it depends on how many referrals we are dealing with. There are just two of us running the service at the moment, myself and Anne Wilkinson. It would be good to have a few more on board, especially when we have a lot of referrals.

“We always have a great deal to learn. We are not experts or financial advisers, but are able to offer support at what can be a very difficult time for patients and their families. When new things come along, we can do a bit of research.

“We do try and deal with each case as quickly as possible, but we can always prioritise urgent cases over less pressing things like blue badge applications. It’s crucial to help people get the benefits they are entitled to. Often, they don’t even know they are entitled to them, or believe they are eligible."

Geoff has also treated hospice staff and patients to his musical talents, playing his drums with the choir during the Christmas before lockdown. He has always loved music and has belonged to several bands including a jazz and blues band and a group called Holly’s Buddies.

He said: “When I was young of course I wanted to be a drummer for a living but that didn’t happen! To be honest, it’s getting harder to cart all that drumming gear around nowadays.”

Fittingly, it was his love of music which first led him to the idea of helping in a hospice.

He said: “I didn’t know what hospices were all about until I went to St Christopher’s in Sydenham to play the drums at a little gig my friend had organised some years ago. I went in there and it was just such a wonderful place.”

Geoff, 68, is married to Barbara, who still works two days a week, and they have three children and four grandchildren. He spent his career working as a financial controller and accountant for large organisations like GEC, and his last job was for Kent Fire and Rescue Service as Principal Accountant.

“I suppose I have always had that inclination to work in finance, and I knew I wanted to continue in that area in my retirement,” he said.

As the hospice opens up now the Covid restrictions have been lifted, Geoff is looking forward to making home visits again, and seeing patients at the hospice as part of its Living Well services. Since the Autumn of last year, he has also been a Front of House volunteer.

He said: “I could see the hospice had lost some volunteers during the pandemic, some were vulnerable and isolating, and I thought I would like to give it a go. I had really missed talking to people face-to-face during lockdown."

“I enjoy meeting and greeting the visitors so much that I want to keep doing both roles, which means a bit more of a commitment."

“Like most people, I thought hospices were places you went to die. I didn’t know about the range of support and services available, and there’s always something new to learn. I always enjoyed that when I was at work and I wanted to continue learning.      

“At ellenor, I feel part of a team – and not just the financial support side. It’s very rewarding being part of the wider Wellbeing and hospice team.”

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