The human sat-nav who meets and greets thousands at Wrexham Maelor hospital

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A former lab technician from Wrexham who has given up his retirement to volunteer at a hospital is urging others to follow his lead.

Edward Parr has greeted thousands of people during his work as a Robin volunteer at Wrexham Maelor hospital, and now describes himself as a “human sat-nav”, guiding patients and visitors around.

As a meet and greet volunteer he devotes hours of his spare time each week to ensuring people reach their medical consultations, X-ray appointments, hospital wards, or treatment units.

The 71-year-old is encouraging others with spare time to also join the growing band of red T-shirted Robin volunteers, who are based in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s three main hospitals and 19 community hospitals.

Edward, who has been a BCUHB Robin for six years, said: “I’m mainly a meeter and greeter, it has been my primary role ever since I signed up as a Robin and I really enjoy it. But it does mean I come across a lot of people who are looking slightly lost. Many of them may not even realise we are there until we speak to them.

“Most out-patients or visitors are generally focused on where they need to be, but the how to get there can escape them. Their minds go blank and if they are not familiar with the hospital lay-out it can be confusing. That’s where we come in.”

Stationed at entrance points, the Robins will step in to point anyone who is looking lost in the direction they need to go.

Edward is usually to be found in front of the first big directional signpost inside Wrexham Maelor Hospital’s main entrance.

“It’s the main T-junction that people reach after walking through the reception area. They usually stop to look at the signage and if they need assistance we will help them. I do sometimes think of myself as a glorified sat-nav,” laughed Edward.

“But it’s a very rewarding role. It’s nice to be able to help people and it’s also a great way for me to get out and do something useful. I was determined after I retired that I didn’t want to sit at home twiddling my thumbs so volunteering work was the perfect option for me.”

Originally from Knotty Ash in Liverpool, Edward moved to Borras in Wrexham in 1967 and worked in the oil refinery sector for many years before becoming an industrial lab technician.

The dad-of-two was well known as an official with the Welsh Amateur Swimming Association, and was a swimming teacher and life-saving instructor and examiner in Chester, plus a life guard for disabled youngsters learning to swim at Rhosnesni High School.

Edward also volunteers one evening weekly, helping direct people around the X-Ray department.

He said: “People are often unclear in their minds about which sort of scan they are having, whether it is an MRI, a CT scan or a general X-Ray. I will try to help determine where they need to be and ensure they get there.”

Edward took several months to fully learn the lay-out of the large district general hospital, which has more than 600 beds, as well as an A&E unit and dozens of specialised treatment areas for outpatients and inpatients.

Edward said: “It definitely takes a few visits to know your way around and sometimes departments move from one area to another which means it is important we keep up with any changes. I can certainly understand why some people feel a little lost on arriving here.

“Usually giving some simple directions will suffice, but occasionally if they feel very lost I will walk a person some way towards where they need to be.

“One of the most pleasurable aspects of the role for me has been getting to know a few regular visitors. They often say hello and sometimes stop for a little chat. I’ve also bumped into some old acquaintances that I haven’t seen for years. It’s amazing when out of the blue I see an old familiar face in front of me. Being a meeter and greeter is a very social role and I enjoy that part of it so much, we get to hear many stories and we have lots of interesting chats.”

Paula Strugnell, Robin volunteers co-ordinator at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, said Edward is a popular personality among staff and patients.

She added: “Ed and all the Robins provide a priceless service to everyone using the hospital. Being a meeter and greeter is a particularly important role as it can save so much time. Those few minutes spent directing people can prevent them turning up late for appointments, getting more stressed and feeling confused. We are very grateful to the entire meet and greet team.”

The Robins volunteer team was established more than a decade ago to give much needed support to health workers across the North Wales region.

Their duties include everything from befriending patients during their stay in hospital and chatting with them, to preparing hot and cold drinks, checking water jugs plus providing reading and writing services for patients.

They also aim to reassure people when they first arrive in hospital, run errands to the hospital shop for patients and spend time with day visitors, doing quizzes, games or talking to help take their mind off treatments.

Ongoing training and support is available for all volunteers. Anyone who wants to find out more about becoming a Robin can find information at the BCUHB website www.bcu.wales.nhs.uk or call BCUHB volunteers manager Sue Marriott  on 01978 727164 or email susan.marriott@wales.nhs.uk