Our volunteers support Katharine House in many different ways – from counselling bereaved loved ones, to working on reception, to helping to raise much-needed funds for the hospice.

But they also provide personal touches, which make such a difference to the patients and families we support.

Here, volunteer Muriel Willson discusses the ‘treemendous’ service she offered our patients by helping them to search their ancestry, following a secondment at Katharine House.

Working with the CNS team

"I first got involved with Katharine House after I retired in 2015. I was off for about a year and then I decided I wanted to do something to fill in the time, something that I really liked doing.

"It just so happened that there was a temporary job going at Katharine House, covering a secondment in the community team. So, I joined the hospice doing secretarial and admin work for the CNS nurses.

"I loved that job. I just got to know everybody there, so when the secondment finished, I decided I would like to be a voluntary worker. I started volunteering for Living Well, or the Day Hospice as it was called then, and wondered what I could do that would be valuable to them.

"I came up with the idea of helping people do their family trees. I have over 30 years experience of genealogy and have gone back as far as I can with my own family tree and I wondered if it would take off with the patients. And it did.”

Moving over to a volunteer role

Having previously worked as a crime analyst and an e-fit operator for Thames Valley Police for 10 years before working as a medical secretary and systems administrator at Horton Hospital Radiology Department for a further decade, Muriel used her love of research to carry out a dozen family trees for patients in her spare time, as well as support many more with their own investigations.

"Anyone who was vaguely computer literate could come in to Living Well and sign in to the site and I’d be there to teach them how to use it, show them the next steps and help them when they got stuck."

Muriel explained that people accessed the service for a number of reasons, from finding out who their ancestors were, to establishing whether their illnesses were hereditary, and even giving a treasured gift for a loved one.

"One lady using the Living Well service did her husband’s family tree and presented it to him at the hospice on his birthday. We had a bit of a celebration for him with cake and things, which was a lovely memory."

Unfortunately, the family tree service had to be suspended during Covid and hasn’t yet returned, with many people still reluctant to come into the hospice. But Muriel is hopeful that it will be something the hospice can bring back soon.

Originally from Romford in Essex and now living in Banbury for almost 50 years, Muriel says she finds looking at family trees fascinating.

"My research showed that my family came up to London from Devon for work. They were labourers and they didn’t have a lot of money. There were 11 children (although some died in infancy and only six survived into adulthood) and it makes you think, how did the family even get up to Whitechapel? Did they travel with a horse and cart, did they go up by boat or simply walk? We’ll never know but it’s fascinating to think about. They were living in Whitechapel when Jack the Ripper was about. There were two daughters, and it makes you think how scary it must have been for them knowing he was about."

Becoming a portfolio volunteer!

Muriel has been involved with Katharine House for many years, raising money for the local charity through quizzes and other fundraising activities long before she started working and volunteering at the hospice. She has enjoyed a number of roles at Katharine House and still hosts a fortnightly quiz for Living Well patients.

"Katharine House means a lot to people in the community and the surrounding villages. It is very well loved.

"The hospice affects everyone’s lives – everyone knows somebody who has had support from Katharine House. It's very important to people around here.

"The hospice always has a really lovely feel to it. I’ve had two friends who received amazing care at Katharine House, and they just loved their time there. Everyone made them so comfortable. It’s just such a lovely place, both for patients and their families."

Katharine House Hospice