Arthur Martin and his wife, Jill, are known as the A-Team. “That's what we call ourselves, anyway,” laughs Arthur, 71, a volunteer with the Royal Voluntary Service, one of the largest volunteer organisations in the UK. “It's our job to take what's known as 'the sweetie trolley' around the wards at Frimley Park Hospital, near Camberley in Surrey, on a Friday afternoon.”

The 'sweetie trolley' is actually the hospital shop's trolley, which sells sweets, biscuits, drinks, newspapers, toothpaste and toothbrushes, among other items. “It's a service for patients who are incapacitated and can't get to the shop,” says Arthur. “So you can imagine — if you can't get out of bed — it's good when Arthur and Jill turn up with the trolley.”

Apart from boosting his mental wellbeing, Arthur thinks hospital volunteering is good physical exercise. “The trolley is big and takes a bit of shoving around,” he says. “It needs teamwork. Which is why we're the A-Team!”

 

Giving something back

 

Arthur first got involved with the Royal Voluntary Service through Jill. She and her best friend, Sylvia, had been volunteering at the hospital for some years; but when her first grandchild was born, Sylvia needed to spend more time on grandmothering duties. “But Jill didn't want to give up and was looking for someone to help with the trolley round,” remembers Arthur. “So I said that if the Royal Voluntary Service would have me, I'd help until someone else came along.”

That was five years ago — and Arthur has been pushing the trolley ever since.

So what does he like so much about the role? “I worked as a policeman for 30 years,” he explains. “Primarily I was dealing with rogues and criminals. So now I think it's good to be able to put something back in the pot and deal with nice people who want a little bit of help and a cheery word. I get a lot of satisfaction from that. Patients find it so boring to be in hospital. They want some to say 'hello' to them and pass the time of day. Chatting with them isn't what we're there to do — but we do it anyway because they love it, and it's great to think we've brightened someone's day.”

 

Boosting wellbeing

 

Volunteers can put in as many hours as they like. “Jill and I do two hours on a Friday afternoon because we're both retired, we've got various hobbies and Friday is a spare slot for us,” says Arthur. “It doesn't cost me anything, either, because I've got a bus pass to get me to and from the hospital.”

Arthur also volunteers at the Royal Volunteer Society's Grandfest, an event which gives talented older people a chance to share their skills with the younger generation. At this year's Grandfest on 18 June, he'll be teaching a masterclass in wood-turning to novices at London's Geffrye Museum.

“I first did wood-turning when I was a kid,” says Arthur. “Then, when I retired, I found one of the largest wood-turning clubs in the country three miles from my house, which I joined. A few years ago, the RVS asked if there was a skill I'd be prepared to demonstrate at Grandfest, so I've been teaching woodturning there since 2015. If I hadn't volunteered at the hospital, I would never have taken part in Grandfest. It's like networking. I love it – it's great fun.”