There when you need us most: volunteering at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital

Henshaws volunteer and Trustee Helen Brazier is back to share with us a typical morning on Henshaws’ information desk at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.

“Unusually, this morning we had a team of four volunteers helping on Henshaws’ information desk. Apart from me, there were two relatively new volunteers. One of them is Wendy, recently retired after a career in customer service management. She was keen to join the team because she loves helping people and her older sister is blind. Nevertheless, she told me today that she learned a lot more about sight loss by attending Henshaws Visual Impairment Awareness Training (VIAT).

The other new member of the team is Mariyah, a first-year optometry student at Manchester University. She said she finds volunteering a very useful way of developing her listening skills and learning about patients’ experiences. We were also joined for the last time by Angeline, a third-year optometry student who has been a regular helper on the desk and will shortly be taking finals.

We set up the information desk in a conspicuous spot in the atrium and laid out our display – a selection of free information leaflets and small pieces of equipment that help people with eye conditions to remain independent.  Our bright pink Henshaws’ hoodies and the colourful leaflets immediately attracted attention and we had a steady stream of visitors.

The first person we met was a lady in mid years who had travelled all the way from Kendal for a glaucoma check up. She thought that she would soon be eligible to be registered as partially sighted so we introduced her to Gail, one of Henshaws’ expert Patient Support Officers, who explained the process and reassured her about the many sources of help and support that are available.

"We never know who we will meet, whether patients are visiting the hospital for the first or the hundredth time and what stories we will hear."

A young man wearing a hospital ID badge stopped by to browse the leaflets.  When we got chatting he explained that his mother had recently been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, so he was glad to find information about the condition and the support groups offered by the Macular Society, as well as the range of services provided by Henshaws.

Later we had a long chat with a Kath and Tim, a cheerful couple who, by coincidence, both have diabetic retinopathy. Despite being sad to give up driving, Tim said that they were managing quite well by using the local bus service. Kath explained how she continues to pursue her various hobbies such as embroidery, reading as part of a reading group, local history and using the iPad.

As she approached, we were struck by the elegant dress sense of Hilda, an older lady who came over to look at the display. It quickly transpired that, despite living in Stockport, she was lonely and isolated and struggling to come to terms with the difficulty of losing her sight. She could no longer read ordinary print and had scalded herself on the kettle but had no-one to ask for help.  She said, “This is all new for me, it’s a steep learning curve”. We introduced Hilda to Gail who gave her practical help and advice. She was much more cheerful as she passed us on her way out.

That’s one of the things we volunteers love about helping on the information desk. We never know who we will meet, whether patients are visiting the hospital for the first or the hundredth time and what stories we will hear. We try to offer a friendly listening ear and make sure that people can access Henshaws’ knowledge and resources when they need them.”

When a person is diagnosed with an eye condition, it can be hard news to take in. That’s why our Patient Support Officers are there at Altrincham and Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, alongside our wonderful volunteers, to provide emotional and practical support right when people need it most. To arrange an appointment or find out more, visit our page at or contact our patient support office on 0161 276 5515. 

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Henshaws rely on voluntary donations; our work just wouldn’t be possible without people like you. Your support empowers local people living with sight loss and a range of other disabilities to increase their independence, achieve their dreams, and go beyond expectations.

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Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.