NHS volunteers Donna and cockapoo Archie bring joy and comfort to mental health patients in Nottinghamshire

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Donna Winfield-Stanesby, Care Dog Volunteer at Nottinghamshire Healthcare, and her lovable cockapoo Archie have been spreading cheer and companionship at Millbrook Mental Health Unit, Mansfield, since August 2023. Every Tuesday, they brighten the lives of patients on Kingsley and Orchid Ward with their visits.

Recognising the unique ability of dogs to provide comfort and joy, especially in mental health settings, Donna and Archie have become a cherished part of the team. Donna says, “Archie gets excited as soon as his yellow volunteering lead goes on, knowing he's off to bring smiles and receive lots of treats, fuss and love from both patients and staff.

"Volunteering with Archie has been incredibly rewarding. We witness first-hand the positive impact our visits make on patients. Patients eagerly await Archie's arrival, and their mood visibly lifts at the sight of him. Archie and I make a great team, engaging patients in conversation and spreading joy even on the toughest days.”

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Archie's range of tricks never fails to impress, and patients often come out of their rooms as soon as they hear Archie has arrived. Donna highlights the experiences volunteering brings to both her and Archie's lives and encourages others to consider volunteering. “I cannot recommend volunteering enough, I am making memorable experiences and enriching mine and Archie’s lives greatly.”

Archie, Volunteer Dog, pictured with Ann Woodhouse, Occupational Therapist.Archie, Volunteer Dog, pictured with Ann Woodhouse, Occupational Therapist.
Archie, Volunteer Dog, pictured with Ann Woodhouse, Occupational Therapist.

Ann Woodhouse, Occupational Therapist at Millbrook Mental Health Unit said, "Their regular presence is welcomed by patients and staff alike. Archie's visits have helped reduce isolation and sparked conversations, bringing moments of joy and relaxation to our patients.

“In some cases, Archie has helped to build relationships between groups of people and supports the development of positive therapeutic relationships between patients and staff.”

Since Donna and Archie began visiting Orchid ward, they have helped to reduce isolation of some patients, who have found it harder to engage with the ward activities. Ann said, “Archie’s visits have sparked conversations and have at times supported therapeutic interventions for the first time during a patient’s stay with us.”

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Volunteer duo, Donna and Archie have received many nominations for the Volunteer of the Year award category in this year’s OSCARS (Outstanding Service Contribution and Recognition Scheme) our colleague and volunteers’ awards scheme, including nominations received for the wider Care Dog Volunteer team – we wish them all lots of luck during the judging period!

Left to right, Ann Woodhouse, Occupational Therapist, with Donna Winfield-Stanesby, Care Dog VolunteLeft to right, Ann Woodhouse, Occupational Therapist, with Donna Winfield-Stanesby, Care Dog Volunte
Left to right, Ann Woodhouse, Occupational Therapist, with Donna Winfield-Stanesby, Care Dog Volunte

Diane Hull, Executive Director of Nursing, Quality, and AHP’s with responsibilities for the Trust’s Involvement, Experience and Volunteering teams, said, “The happiness Donna and her lovely dog Archie bring to mental health patients in Nottinghamshire shows just how much of a positive impact volunteers can have in our community. Their commitment to spreading joy and comfort is truly commendable and serves as inspiration for all of us.

“The passion and dedication shown from all our volunteers helps support and challenge our services to be better. We are so proud to work with over 180 volunteers across the Trust, who collectively give over 300 hours of their time a week to help make a difference to our patients lives, their carers, families, and our staff.”

For many patients, visits from volunteers like Archie and Donna become the highlight of their week, offering a much-needed boost in mood and a sense of connection. The Trust have many doggy volunteers who visit a range of different sites, from Rampton High Secure Hospital to The Wells Road Centre in Mapperley, from our Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services to our Mental Health Services for Older People, with the latest dog volunteers joining our Lings Bar hospital team in Gamston.

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We are continually seeking to expand our volunteer team, particularly those of the four-legged variety. If you are compassionate, have some spare hours, and a desire to give back, find more about joining our #TeamNottsHC volunteer community at www.nottinghamshirehealthcare.nhs.uk/iev-volunteering.