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Volunteering: Helen’s experience

Press Contact

Emma Jacob


Almost three decades after first being diagnosed with breast cancer, Helen Fenton put her name forward to volunteer at the new Yorkshire Cancer Research café in Harrogate.

Helen standing in the Yorkshire Cancer Research cafe, smiling at the camera

For the former teacher, the role has been more than an opportunity to learn skills and meet new people, it’s also been a way to give back to a cause close to her heart.

Helen said: “I saw the advert for volunteers at the Yorkshire Cancer Research café, and something about it really caught my eye. I did the odd bit of café work when I was a student and always enjoyed it, so volunteering felt like a nice way to do that again.

“It kept popping up on my social media and the opportunity to support a cancer research charity after being affected myself felt like the right thing to do, so I decided to put my name forward.”

Helen was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 29, and first noticed some soreness down one arm. She spoke to her GP and was referred for further tests before being told she had cancer.

“When I first went to the doctor, it didn’t even cross my mind that it could be cancer, especially because I didn’t have any of the typical signs like finding a lump. It just shows how important it is to know your own body and go and get something checked if it doesn’t feel right.”

Helen had chemotherapy to treat the cancer and after completing it, she was told that the treatment had been successful.

Unfortunately, six years later the cancer returned and Helen had surgery to remove the tumour.

She is now almost 30 years on from her first diagnosis and is keen to show her support for others affected by cancer through volunteering for Yorkshire Cancer Research.

She said: “Cancer hasn’t just affected me, it’s touched a lot of people in my life. A few years ago, my dad passed away from lung cancer, and my mum has also had cancer, so I want to do everything I can to support Yorkshire Cancer Research.

“It’s amazing, when you’re diagnosed all of a sudden you hear loads of stories from people who have had their own experiences with cancer, and you’d never know anything about it. It affects so many people.”

Helen was one of the first people to volunteer at the new Yorkshire Cancer Research Centre, based at Hornbeam Park in Harrogate, and helped welcome customers through the café doors in October 2023.

Cafe Manager Rich serving pastries and sweet treats at the Yorkshire Cancer Research Centre

Alongside the café, the Yorkshire Cancer Research Centre is also home to the Active Together programme. The pioneering exercise programme offers fitness, nutrition and wellbeing support to people with cancer to help them prepare for and recover from treatment.

Helen said: “I was given a tour of the Centre when I first started and had a taster of what Active Together was offering people with cancer. I remember being so impressed.”

The Centre also houses a shop and donation centre, where people can drop off pre-loved goods to be sold to help raise vital funds for world-leading cancer research.

Helen is now six months into the role and is enjoying the new skills that volunteering has brought.

“Everyone who works and volunteers at the charity is so friendly, and I love coming in and working with my fellow volunteers."

"The café gives you an opportunity to carve out your own role. I especially like working on the till, and being able to greet people as they come in.

“I love seeing the café full of customers, because you can see the funds being raised for the charity. I would recommend giving café volunteering a try to anyone.”

Find out more about volunteering