This week is National Volunteers Week, which helps celebrate the generous contributions of our nation’s volunteers. Jo Spence, a Cairnlea resident, manages more than 600 volunteers for Western Health. She speaks to Alexandra Laskie. 


What does your job involve?

I am Western Health’s community engagement and volunteers manager. My main office is at Sunshine Hospital but I work across Williamstown and Footscray also. I lead a team of co-ordinators who recruit and manage the volunteer team of about 600 people who support Western Health’s patients and staff. I manage the opportunity and auxiliary shops and I also manage a community engagement program that works with local schools to offer opportunities for students to come into our hospital and work on projects that will make a difference to staff and patients.


What is it you love about your job?

That each day is different. I get to meet lots of different people and hear their stories and what they are passionate about.


What is it you love about working in Sunshine?

The people. Our community is so vibrant and interesting. My job gives me an opportunity to engage with all ages, all cultures and all backgrounds. I am not sure this would happen anywhere else but the west. The community here is so giving and resourceful. It is a fabulous place to live and work, being surrounded by such empathy.


How could Sunshine be improved?

I think it would be a great idea to have a real focus on educating the rest of Melbourne about what the west has – a promotional strategy that all ages and cultures could be involved in. Maybe also a tour for ratepayers to find out about the history of their area, like a hop-on, hop-off model.


Why did you move to Cairnlea and when?

We moved to Cairnlea about eight years ago. We previously lived in Sanctuary Lakes and before that Diamond Creek, where I had spent most of my married life and brought my kids up. It was a real change to how we live our lives and we haven’t looked back.


What do you love about your suburb?

Cairnlea is a very quiet and safe neighbourhood. The parks and lakes really give the feeling of peacefulness and being close to nature. I grew up in the country and so living surrounded by gum tress and being able to hear the birds and seeing them nest on the lake really keeps me in a good, peaceful space. It is also pretty great that I can drive out of my driveway and be sitting at my desk at Sunshine Hospital in a total of five minutes.


What are you hobbies?

Fishing, gardening, spending time with my family and friends, planning my next holiday, colouring in, collecting anything to do with swans, going to watch the North Melbourne Kangaroos win.


What’s something people from elsewhere in Melbourne don’t know about Cairnlea, Sunshine and the west in general?

Our friends who live outside the west are amazed at the cost of living and the price, and diversity, of the fresh food available close by our home. They are also surprised how close we are to the CBD. Then, of course, there is the amazing food the west has to offer. It has everything covered. I always like to tell the story of the Harvester [the Sunshine Harvester Works was a factory opened by H.V. McKay in 1906]. Being a farmer’s daughter, I think it is one that not everyone knows about outside of the west.


When you have visitors, where do you take them to show off your neighbourhood?

We often will take a stroll around the lake and then down to the Vietnamese coffee shop at Cairnlea shops. The park across the road from our house has a playground and barbecue. When the grandkids are over, we always go on a nature walk – we know all of the (types of) birds and ducks and swans on the lake.