JVN Volunteering Profiles – Nightingale’s Helen Spiro

Helen Spiro of Nightingale

How we look after the most vulnerable members of our society is a true test of Jewish, or indeed any community’s, values.  And there is one organisation which passes with absolutely high-flying colours!  Here to tells us more about its work with the very oldest members of our community – and in the largely unknown wilds of deepest South London – is Nightingale’s Helen Spiro.  

Tell us about Nightingale

Nightingale is a nursing home for elderly Jewish residents based in Clapham with a 170 year history.  We have around 180 residents with an average age of 90 years and 12 over the age of 100. We are very accessible on the underground (Northern Line), overground and buses so contrary to expectations we are not miles away in distance or time from North West or Central London!! 

Prince Charles with Chairman, Harvey Rosenblatt, CEO Leon Smith and resident Leah (who, by the way, disingenuously asked HRH who he was!) at the opening of the Wohl Wing

Recently Prince Charles opened our new Wohl Wing which is a unit dedicated to looking after forty residents with moderate dementia. Both in the Wohl Wing and the rest of the Home, residents are cared for depending on their needs, and activities play a major role in stimulating residents and allowing them to enjoy the last few years of their lives.

How did you initially get involved with Nightingale?  What is your role?

I am the Volunteers Support and Development Manager and came to Nightingale six and a half years ago initially as a volunteer counsellor and after one year took on this role which I love. My responsibilities are very varied from recruiting, induction and supervising volunteers – I have more than 180 on my database – to supporting activities and other events.  Nightingale is our residents’ home and what I love is that I and my volunteers can help them settle in and enjoy their daily life. My job is unbelievably varied which is stimulating for me and that is what keeps me here.

How do volunteers fit into what Nightingale does?

Betty and volunteer Pamela on one of our many outings

Apart from housekeeping, hands on nursing and caring, volunteers do just about everything else.  Without volunteers, our residents’ lives would not be so enriched. For example, we try to take residents out of the Home especially during the Spring and Summer, it maybe to the seaside, a local park, museums, theatres etc but without volunteers to help only very few residents could go.  Back in the Home, volunteers will be found supporting every and any activity whether on individual units or downstairs in the Activity Centre where they will be helping with cookery, stitching, knitting, pottery or the computers.  A reminiscence or chat group will be run by volunteers as will games afternoons or cosy tea parties and quizzes.

What events have you got coming up?

We have just now started a new, exciting programme for young volunteers aged between 16-25 called “New Voices”.  http://www.nightingale.org.uk/resources/new-voices.pdf.  This certificated activity (hopefully it will also become accredited) will allow volunteers to do a minimum of 48 hours volunteering over a six month period from October to April, including three evening training sessions, supervision and mentoring from an existing volunteer. 

Marilyn with volunteer Amy during a cookery session

Each volunteer will have to keep a reflective diary and, at the end of the six months, will do a short presentation to their peers before receiving a certificate of achievement.  We have 23 youngsters who have signed up for the programme and although it is too late to sign up this year, any young person who would like to volunteer at Nightingale will be most welcome. This is particularly true as Chanukah coincides with Christmas this year and most of the activity staff will be on holiday, so I will have to rely even more on my Jewish volunteers to come in to both befriend residents and support or run an activity!

What is the best part of your day?

When I go home?   No, I really enjoy my job especially working alongside volunteers and seeing them grow in confidence.  Some are very quiet and shy when they start, quite scared of working with older people who naturally can be quite ill whether with a disability or dementia.  It is just wonderful to see natural skills developing and the lovely relationships that are forged.

How has JVN helped you work with volunteers?

I really enjoy the Volunteers Coordinators Forums where I can meet up and network with people doing the same as myself.  Sadly I haven’t yet recruited a volunteer through the website, although I know people have been viewing the opportunities.  It would seem that people are scared of travelling south of the river, but hopefully as time goes by the news will percolate through that we aren’t that far away – and any potential volunteers can come and visit without any obligation and see what a great place we are!



Categories: Volunteering Profiles


Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.


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