“The only skill you need is empathy”

Posted: Thursday 01 June 2023
Helen Volunteer

A former ophthalmic nurse has spoken of her rewarding new role as a volunteer group leader for the Macular Society and the difference she’s making to people with macular degeneration.

Helen, who relocated to the east midlands from the south of England with her family earlier this year, was keen to meet new people and use her skills to help others.

The mother-of-two came across an article in her local newspaper and decided to get in touch with the Macular Society about the role.

She said: “For me, I always understood the profound effect sight loss has on people, and the loss of confidence, the isolation it can cause, the social side to it, and it was just heart breaking.

“With the kids back at school I thought ‘I need to do something’ and I came across the article and thought I could help.”

The Oakham support group had existed before the Covid-19 pandemic but has struggled to get back off the ground in the last few years. With the support of Macular Society regional manager Paul Holden, Helen has been able to set up the group again with more members joining every month.

She said: “It has literally been a case of setting it up from scratch again. Knowing I was going to run the group was a little bit intimidating to start with but the support you get from the Macular Society and somebody like Paul is brilliant. You never feel as though you’re alone.

“Now it’s not scary in the slightest. The people are lovely. They’re fantastic actually and they’re so grateful. So even if you are a little bit under confident, and you join in thinking, “Oh, I don’t really know what I’m doing,” you soon get swept along with it.”

She added: “And I would say I definitely get as much out of the group as they do, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Helen has struck up a bond with her group members and now makes the time to see them in between group meetings.

“I love working with older people,” she said. “Seeing the difference you’re making then spurs you on to do a bit more, to the point I go down to where we hold the meetings in between official meetings. So I’ll just informally say, ‘I’ll be down in a couple of weeks for a cup of tea. If anyone’s about, come down and I’ll be there.’ You might only get four or five people there, and it’s much more informal than the other sessions. It’s great. It’s so fulfilling.”

And Helen has seen first-hand the impact the group is having on people’s confidence.

“One of the reasons I wanted to volunteer was because I was already aware of the impact of sight loss. I worked in ophthalmology for 15 years, in lots of different departments, and I ended up as a nurse practitioner in eye casualty, so I’ve seen the effects of sight loss in many different ways. For me, part of it is getting those people to socialise again, because some of them don’t ever leave where they live.

“I got to know lots of patients, and again, they would tell me they only came out for the injections. That was the only time they left the house. And I’m a chatterbox. I will chat. I loved nursing, absolutely adored it, so it’s almost like I’ve got all the best bits of nursing in this voluntary role.”

But she insists that a background in eye or health care is not essential to succeed in a group leader role

She said: “You don’t need to know loads about ophthalmology, or eyes, or macular degeneration. I think the main thing you need to be is really personable and friendly. That’s it. You just need to be able to have a good chat, because generally all they want is someone to have a little chat with, and to be heard.

“Really, the only skill you need to be a good group leader is empathy. It’s just being kind.”

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, there are lots of roles available. Join our army of dedicated volunteers by contacting our volunteer team on 01264 326 622 or filling out the online registration form.