Dixon, Liz (2021) Exploring the Landscape of Hospice Volunteering: an ethnographic study of the lived experiences of hospice volunteers. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis is an ethnographic study of hospice volunteers based in a UK adult hospice. Studies into hospice volunteers often tend to consider volunteers as an homogenous group (Morris et al 2013), but this research takes account of the diversity represented within a volunteer cohort and examines a range of volunteer roles, including specific consideration of trustees and professionals working as volunteers. In the United Kingdom there are at least 125 000 volunteers supporting hospice care (Hospice UK 2020a). As hospices look to expand their services and with an increasing demand for End of Life Care in a variety of settings, the role of volunteers in sustaining that provision is likely to become increasingly important (Scott et al 2018).

The ethnography incorporated participant observation, interviews, specialist focus groups based on the principles of LEGO® Serious Play® and hospice documentation and artefacts. Data from the study are used to investigate the complexities of hospice volunteering.

The thesis draws on theories of situated learning and emotional labour to better understand the work and learning of hospice volunteers and the concept of liminality is used to explicate unique characteristics of hospice volunteering. Acknowledging the liminal space which hospice volunteers populate, helps to articulate the value and importance of hospice volunteers, and their place in the organisation. It explains the characteristics of volunteering which distinguish it from paid employment and implications for management and policy involving volunteers.

The main findings of the research include those relating to less tangible, social and emotional aspects of volunteering, revealing the rich and often hidden complexity of the role of hospice volunteers which contribute to the work of the hospice and End of Life Care. The thesis argues that hospice volunteering affords significant benefits to both the individual volunteers and to the organisation, but these beneficial outcomes are predicated upon the culture and practices which exist within the hospice. There are challenges involved in sustaining and developing hospice volunteering in the future, and maximising the use of volunteers’ skills and expertise, especially in relation to volunteers’ involvement in direct patient care. Finally, it contends that it is the liminal space of volunteering and the volunteers who occupy that space which help to sustain the unique character and ethos of hospice care.

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