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Volunteer services lead Val retiring from WSFT

One of the most familiar faces at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Val Dutton, retires this month after many years’ service in the health sector.

As voluntary services manager, Val oversees the invaluable cohort of more than 300 people who give their time to support patients and staff at the West Suffolk and Newmarket Community hospitals, and Glastonbury Court care home where WSFT patients are cared for on the King Suite.

“The volunteers are people who want to give their time to help, and they feel privileged to be coming in and to be part of the team,” said Val. “We have more than 40 roles for volunteers, and they work alongside staff – they are not staff but they are a valued part of the workforce.”

After qualifying and working as a hairdresser, Val started work as a domestic assistant at the Jane Walker Hospital in Nayland, which cared for people with learning disabilities. At the age of just 23 she progressed to being the manager. “As soon as I started there I loved it, hospitals just got into my blood,” she said. “The patients and the camaraderie with great colleagues, so when the hospital closed, I joined community services providing hotel services at a number of sites.”

Val explained that in that role, she had become involved with health and safety, leading her to becoming a deputy risk manager based at Thingoe House here in Bury. In 2000 she joined the West Suffolk Hospital, as health and safety officer. “In 2004 I went to the mental health trust as risk manager and loved it, even though it was very stressful, it was so rewarding.”

Sadly, in 2006, Val’s husband died, and she herself had serious health issues which meant she had to give up her demanding role. “I could not do that job, but I could not just do nothing,” she said. “I knew people at the WSH and it was very kindly agreed that I could have a Bank contract here, to see what I could do. Medicine and treatment helped improve my health and after doing a wide variety of tasks, I became the volunteer co-ordinator in 2012.”

Val said the voluntary services team has built great relationships with WSFT managers, and are proactive in suggesting roles that volunteers can do to support staff and enhance the patients’ experience. “It’s a win-win for the volunteers and the Trust. They are so thrilled to start and so enthusiastic, and such a support to staff, patients and visitors.

“One of the things I am very proud of is the setting up of the student programme, giving opportunities for young people who are interested in a health service career. To do that we have had to develop relationships within the Trust and with schools and colleges, it has not been easy but it’s been a great success which we know will continue.”

Chief executive officer Dr Ewen Cameron said: “Val has had such a huge impact over her many years working in the organisation leading volunteering services and will leave a significant legacy.  I hope she enjoys her well-deserved retirement.”

Val, who lives near Sudbury, has four children and two grandchildren, and said she has a long list of things she wants to do when she finally retires next week, including volunteering in her local area, and learning Portuguese, which her grandsons both speak. “I am looking forward to it, but I have loved my work here and will greatly miss everyone, especially my team who are the best! But I’ll keep in touch.”

If you are interested in volunteering at WSFT, please visit Volunteering ( Among the roles currently being recruited for are ward volunteers at Newmarket Community Hospital, and joining the team in the Friends’ shop at WSH.

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