How volunteering can transform lives

1 June 2016

Saira Nawaz, who is about to celebrate her 20th anniversary as a volunteer at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, says volunteering has transformed her life.

Saira is one of hundreds of thousands of individuals whose contribution is being celebrated this week as part of National Volunteers Week.

Saira, who is also a Trust Governor, first got involved while studying for a degree and Masters in health psychology. She explained: “I wanted to get work experience and contacted the Trust who agreed to let me help out as a volunteer.”

Over the years, Saira, who was named National Volunteer of the Year in 2014, has touched the lives of many thousands of people, and also made at least one significant improvement to their care.

Saira, who works mainly with service users with dementia explained: “When I first started, volunteers used to help to feed patients but I noticed that they were only allotted half an hour per person. 

“This didn’t give them enough time to eat a proper meal so I invited the then-Chair of the Trust to come along to see how allowing more time would improve things. 

“He agreed and the meal time per individual was increased to an hour, which meant that service users started to put on weight and were more comfortable and calm as a result”.  Saira Nawaz

At the moment, Saira volunteers with the trolley shop for 16 hours a week and describes her role as “inspiring confidence in service users”, by helping them to choose items to buy, such as personal hygiene products, refreshments, chocolates, crisps and fresh fruit.

She explained: “Some of the service users are inpatients, so we try to provide little treats which can really make a difference to people’s day. There is a team of nine of us altogether, having started out initially with just two of us”.

Saira, who speaks Punjabi, Urdu and Bengali, has also helped teach English to some service users, increasing their ability to communicate and be more independent.

She said: “One of the most rewarding moments was when one lady, whose first language was Bengali,  surprised staff by counting up to ten without any prompting after I’d taught her her numbers in English”.

Helping compile ‘life-stories’ for service users is another area which Saira describes as hugely rewarding. This involves working with the service user and their family or carer to write their story, illustrating it with photographs and other mementoes.

She said: “One lady was a dressmaker to the Queen, others have been engineers, war heroes or sporting legends.  No-one should be defined simply by their illness – many of the people I have met over the years have the most amazing stories”. 

A typical day for Saira would involve playing games, such as Scrabble, Connect4 or Ludo with service users, as well as sitting and talking to them. “Dignity is so important to every individual and taking the time to sit and talk to people can really make a difference. 

“They can’t always say thank you but to see them smile, or to provide a little comfort or some interest in their day can make this phase of their life easier for them and that is something I really value.”

The Trust’s volunteer programme links in to the new Clinical Strategy launched in March.  Among its pledges is the commitment to work with service users and their carers on their treatment and how they are supported. Click here to read more about our Clinical Strategy.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at the Trust please email

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