They are the quiet army of heroes who help keep our NHS going.
PRIYA MISTRY meets the League of Friends at Queen Alexandra Hospital.
THEY have been described as the saints of Queen Alexandra Hospital.
What started out as a group of 80 volunteers, has now turned into an organisation of more than 450 members.
Working behind the scenes, the League of Friends fundraise to buy medical equipment as well as listening and supporting patients by lending an ear.
Now this month marks the league’s 60th birthday.
The group raises money for Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust (PHT) – which runs QA in Cosham – and over the past six decades has donated around £1.6m to the hospital.
Its first chairman was Norman McKinlay, who started the group to support the hospital.
Fast forward 60 years and Jan Spear is now at the helm.
She says: ‘I worked as a ward sister at QA for 33 years and had always seen how the League of Friends have supported the hospital.
‘I then had to take medical retirement and was asked to join the league.
‘That was four years ago and now I’m the chairman.
‘It’s a brilliant group of people to lead and I’m so grateful for all the hours the volunteers give me.’
The first major project funded by the league was in 1957/58 when it paid for the south block chapel at QA.
After this day rooms for various wards were given and in November 1979 a tea bar service was opened on weekend afternoons for visitors in the main foyer of the hospital.
Although this closed from 1988, due to a change in government policies, it reopened in July 1999 and has been getting stronger and stronger.
In 2000, a charity shop opened and a year later a trolley service was started initially in the eye department.
In 2006, it was decided the league would allocate up to £100,000 a year for equipment, which has been going on ever since.
This year the league has already raised £120,000.
Jan heads a team of 110 active volunteers, who between them run three trolley services, a coffee and retail shop, hold an art group and sit with patients to keep them company.
Social events are also held three times a year, along with a long weekend outing and a magazine is published.
Malcolm Reed, 78, is a current volunteer and helps run the coffee shop. He joined the league 16 years ago after his wife Barbara joined.
‘When I was 15 I joined the navy and have been around the world many times,’ he says.
‘I enjoyed 22 years of that and after had various jobs.
‘Then when my wife joined the league I thought I would too.
‘I help out in the coffee shop and think it’s a marvellous way to raise money.’
A party was held at the Cosham Community Centre, in Wootton Street, Cosham, which saw present and previous volunteers get together.
Among them was June Oliver, 84, of Alverstoke, who has been involved with the league since it started, and has been a member for 50 years.
She says: ‘I was in my 20s when I first joined.
‘My great aunt was part of the group that started the league and that’s how I became involved.
‘I stayed on for so long because I just enjoyed it for so long.
‘Visiting the patients was always great. Unfortunately not all of them would have people come to see them, so I would go and sit with them and have a chat.
‘I would also go around to the different departments and see what equipment or items they needed and they were always so grateful when those things were given.’
Over the years volunteers have been nationally recognised in several areas.
Six years ago Ursula Hill, 89, was made a Member of the British Empire and was also awarded the Order of Mercy, for all the time she dedicated to the league.
Ms Hill served as vice chairman for 17 years and enjoyed organising fashion shows to raise money for the league.
She says: ‘When I was vice chairman I helped with coffee mornings, which took place twice a year, and we always had fun organising the fashion shows. We also knitted woolly items to keep people warm in the winter.
‘Being in the league has been a great way to get to know people and feel like you are doing something worthwhile.
‘It’s an absolutely wonderful league and have loved it since I have joined.’
The hard work of the league has not gone unnoticed by hospital chiefs.
Peter Mellor, company secretary for PHT, said: ‘The league has done massive amounts for the hospital, which is great, but also fantastic considering it is run by volunteers.
‘The help is crucial and fundamental to the hospital as they have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy in equipment and help patients.
‘The main source of income is they have their own coffee shop. There is also an excellent trolley service, which goes around the wards and sells things like newspapers and shampoo.
‘The volunteers are always happy to help – even if it’s to visit patients and spend time with them.
‘They are the saints of this hospital and we have a lot to thank them for.’
The league is looking for more volunteers.
To become a member of the league for a year costs £1 – or £10 to become a life member.
To find out more visit porthosp.nhs.uk/about-us/volunteers-and-fundraising/league-of-friends.htm.