Auxiliaries only stronger after Covid difficulties

Linda Swales, Lifetime Members Dorothy Shepherd and Mary Brown, and Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr.

The United Hospital Auxiliaries (UHA) of NSW have become stronger and more united on the back of Covid-19 – that was the takeaway at this week’s Riverina Regional Conference, held in Tumut.

The conference – held at Club Tumut on Tuesday – was a chance for UHA members to reflect and celebrate all that had been achieved during the year like no other.

Current UHA Riverina branch representative and state president, Linda Swales, proudly stated at the conference that the past year has demonstrated the incredible resilience and reliability of all its ‘volunteers, friends and community members’, something that has been the case everywhere she has travelled there has always been something to “hear and something to celebrate”.

The Riverina branches were no exception, with Mrs Swales commending the gathering of members for continuing to display impressive acts of community spirit, as well as achieving fundraising targets which far outweighed anything expected of them. 

“I’ve heard from many that whilst we have been in stand down stages, members have been mindful of the members that live alone, the ones anxious and needing reassurance,” she said proudly.

“Staying connected and reaching out is vital to our wellbeing”.

Mrs Swales also believed that the pandemic has reinvigorated hospital auxiliaries, as people have begun to realise that medical staff on the front-lines need and deserve the communities full support if they are to continue their vital work. 

“It’s bringing people to realise that it doesn’t just all drop out of the sky, all of the extras,” she said. 

“What we’re doing, it’s for the comfort and welfare of hospitals, and every dollar that we raise in say Adelong, Batlow and Tumut stays in that community.’

“I think people are starting to realise that if the volunteers go, we shall be a lot worse off.”

Independent MP for Wagga Wagga, Dr Joe McGirr, opened the conference on Tuesday and said it was fantastic to see a renewed interest in hospital auxiliaries, something that is great for all the regions involved. 

“They’ve really had a bit of a renaissance,” he said. 

“The Tumut Hospital auxiliary is 55 members and [the UHA altogether] they’ve raised over four million [dollars] across 189 branches throughout NSW”. 

“All that stuff’s great and it’s a real connection to the community… I think the communities know how important their hospitals are and what a difference these funds make”. 

Dr McGirr also said that the Riverina’s 636 members – the highest membership number of all state auxiliary groups – are just another example of why he believes the region has the best communities in NSW.

For Batlow resident Linda Swales, 2021 will be her last year in her representative positions, having been state president for five years and the Riverina’s regional representative for nine. 

Whilst she says she will miss meeting with members all across the state, Mrs Swales is looking forward to ‘retiring again’ and welcomes new members into the positions.

She also leaves with her head held high, believing that – especially given the year that’s been – she played an important part in ensuring that the auxiliary and the Riverina branch is now arguably stronger than it has ever been. 

“I’ve had the challenges, I’ve had Covid[-related situations] where decisions had to be made and I had to pull everyone out of exactly what they are doing,” she explained.

“It was a hard decision, and people will look and say ‘well there is no policy’ – no because we have never had a pandemic – so things like that have been interesting to try and explain, and to reach everyone.”

Mrs Swales again emphasised the level of support that all UHA members have shown towards each other over the past year is incredible, believing that for many members – especially during Covid – the social aspect is just as rewarding as the fundraising. 

“For most of these people it’s their social lives as well, because they go to a meeting once a month and then they’ll go and have coffees and then there’s an event and then there’s something else,” she said. 

“They’re all giving and they’re all caring, I’ll miss the part of meeting up with them because we’re all like-minded,” she said. 

Asked if she could give one piece of advice to the auxiliary before she leaves, Mrs Swales chose the famous saying of the late Captain Sir Thomas ‘Tom’ Moore.

“’Tomorrow will be a good day’, I love that and I love to be positive,” she said – certainly an appropriate response given the current climate and everything members have had to overcome.

Due to losing more than a quarter of the financial year due to lockdowns and social distancing restrictions, fundraising figures for 2019/20 were slightly down; however, UHA NSW ensured that auxiliaries were still operating and doing exactly as they had since they began in 1933.

“Anything financial we buy, because it’s money put in trust by the locals to spend for the benefit of hospitals, so that part of the business we have been able to keep going which I’m very pleased about,” Mrs Swales said.

“I left it up to the executives to Zoom, FaceTime, whatever they need to do, but we need to spend this money.”

Mrs Swales encourages everyone to get involved in their local hospital auxiliary and the great work that is being done. 

She especially calls on grandmothers and mothers to bring their young people to meetings or functions, so that they can be introduced to the rewarding and supportive community that they could be a part of.