'Volunteering changed my life' - how an unthinkable tragedy led Bryan to Bluebell Wood

A grandfather-of-three whose wife and son died within months of one another says volunteering for Bluebell Wood children’s hospice has “changed his life” as he adjusts to a future without them.

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 5:08 pm

Bryan Rowlands lost his wife Katherine of 13 years to cancer in 2016 and within a matter of months, his 39-year-old son Colin took his own life.

The support he received from his daughter Emma and his grandchildren, as well as from good friends, helped him through the dark days that followed, and made Bryan determined to give something back to the community.

“Katherine passed away in January and then in November, my son Colin took his own life. In the months in-between I also lost two brothers,” said Bryan, 67, who’s now retired.

Bryan in Bluebell Wood’s gardens.

“It was the worst year of my life, and it always will be.”

Bryan had lived happily with Katherine in Lancashire, but after the tragic events of 2016 he decided to move back to his hometown of Rotherham to be closer to his family.

“I honestly don’t know how I would have got through it without their support and it made me determined to do something to help others.

“So after I’d finished decorating my new house, I desperately needed something else to focus on and a good friend of mine suggested volunteering at Bluebell Wood.

“I’d heard of the charity, but knew very little of their work having lived so far away. So, after chatting to a few people about the incredible work at the hospice, my mind was made up.

“I have to say that I had no idea what to expect and was a bit apprehensive at first, but the second you walk in there all that disappears.

“Meeting other staff and volunteers was so uplifting and it really feels like I’m part of a big family.

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“I find it so satisfying and it’s really helped me to move forward. I wake up in the morning excited to go in.”

With almost 50 years’ experience in the engineering industry, Bryan has been putting his talents to good use in the charity’s eBay team.

As well as searching for bargains to sell on Bluebell Wood’s eBay page, Bryan’s even hand-crafted a range of unique and quirky lamps which have proved incredibly popular.

Now Bluebell Wood is keen to hear from any potential volunteers who’d like to lend their time to the charity, whether that be at the hospice, in one of its charity shops or in the community.

You can find out more at https://www.bluebellwood.org/current-volunteering-opportunities, by calling the hospice on 01909 517 360 or on Facebook www.facebook.com/BluebellWoodVolunteering.

Bryan added: “I thought the hospice would be clinical, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The atmosphere is so friendly, I always leave feeling top-notch. Having something to focus on really has changed my life.

"It’s better than being in a football team – and that’s saying something.”

Rebecca Lund, volunteer co-ordinator at Bluebell Wood, said: “We’d like to say a big thank you to Bryan, not only for his hard work, dedication and creativity, but for bravely sharing his heartbreaking and deeply personal story.

“Bryan has been through so much these past few years so his passion for helping others is nothing short of inspirational.”

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Sam Jackson, editor.