AS healthcare centres across the country mark Hospice Care Week, we are helping to celebrate the people behind Oxford's treasured Sobell House. We have pledged to raise £40,000 for the Headington hospice, which this year is using the annual Hospice UK event to hail its volunteers. Sophie Grubb has been to meet them to discover their fantastic work.

VOLUNTEERS who man Sobell House's day centre assume a multitude of roles: their helping hands and empathetic persona mean they are more than just a barista and beholder of biscuits.

Both patients and volunteers are allocated a specific day to attend every week, meaning faces soon become familiar.

For those visiting on a Thursday, Josie Church and Vicky Baker - who have volunteered at Sobell for almost 50 years between them - are as much as part of the furniture as the spongy turquoise armchairs that fill the lounge.

Mrs Baker is one of Sobell House's longest-serving volunteers, having spent 30 years helping patients by bringing them food and drink offering conversation.

The 80-year-old, who lives in Donnington in Oxford, said: "The patients are all very supportive of the volunteers, if one of us isn't here they'll say 'where is she?'

"There's a great myth about hospices – people think if you come here you die, but that's not true."

The former Marks and Spencer employee was pipped to the title of longest-serving volunteer by a few weeks, but has cherished her weekly service at Sobell, based at the Churchill Hospital, alongside the hospice's eldest volunteer, Mrs Church.

The 92-year-old great-grandmother and former nurse, who lives in Summertown, said she felt 'gravitated' to Sobell 19 years ago.

She said: "I had always planned to come here part time and when my husband died I decided to go for it. Sobell was the nearest I got to being back to nursing - it kept my hand in healthcare.

"Just being with the patients is so inspiring. We try to make them feel welcome and spend time with as many as we can."

Day centre volunteers are responsible for keeping patients fed and watered - including with the alcoholic drinks trolley - and setting up for the three-course lunch cooked at on-site, and can entertain them with conversation and games.

Mrs Church said: "Chatting relieves a lot of tension. It's a buoyant atmosphere, it isn't sad place.

"The patients do get to feel that they can ask for a little something special. You can do something that somehow makes a difference."

Also working in the Thursday team is 57-year-old Louise Milford, from Old Marston, who began volunteering six months ago.

The mother-of-three, who works part-time as a surgical practice manager, said: "It's very much part of my week – this is my day, for me. Coming here is wonderful, the ladies have accepted me into their team and I enjoy their company as much as the patients’.

"We are not told any diagnoses, we only know if they chose to tell us. What we hear here stays here, we have an understanding of confidentiality.

"Sometimes they will come in quite low and talking to others raises their spirits – by the afternoon you see a very great change."

The trio are among about 30 volunteers who sacrifice their time to help at the hospice's day centre, which is open every weekday.

In tomorrow’s Oxford Mail, Sophie Grubb meets some of the volunteer drivers at Sobell House.