It was a few years ago that I last visited Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital and witnessed its volunteer programme, Knox Home Companions, in action. It was thriving then and it has now grown even more.

I recall Chief Executive Jill Woodward sharing with me a beautiful card that a volunteer had given to a resident with advanced dementia. It described how much the volunteer’s friendship with the older lady had come to mean to her and had helped her to adjust to living in a new country.

Knox has a strong relationship with Languages International, and many of the volunteers originate from this organisation. Like the author of the card, many are a long way from home. In fact, around three-quarters of the volunteers are migrants to New Zealand, with around 65 different nationalities. Volunteering at Knox offers a respite from their loneliness and a chance to improve their English in a safe environment.

Girls from nearby St Cuthbert’s College are frequent after-school volunteers too, often making biscuits in the kitchens with the residents.

It all started in 2013, when the residents said they did not want to be “buddied up” to reduce loneliness; instead they wanted a friend and they wanted this to be organic. This led to the creation of the Knox Home Companions programme.

Fast-forward to today and there are now approximately 800 companion volunteers, who make more than 700 visits to residents each month. The volunteers range in age from 13 to 90 years old.

Companion volunteers create independence by supporting residents to reach their personal goals and provide the extra support that may be needed to get out to do their personal shopping, Skype family or visit a café.

Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital is a deserving winner of the Minister of Health’s Volunteer Awards; such a wonderful place and programme is certainly worthy of recognition.

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