NEW: Hospice in the Weald chief executive Rob Woolley
THE area's leading charity has warned that it faces a funding crisis.
Hospice in the Weald's new chief executive said the organisation was braced for the "most testing year in its history".
Rob Woolley said the Pembury-based hospice needs another 300 fundraising volunteers or it could be forced to cut services for people with life-threatening illnesses.
Mr Woolley, 54, told the Courier: "There are not enough people to raise funds. Our volunteers are worth £1 million a year to us at the moment and if numbers keep dropping off there will be a funding crisis."
The 17-bed hospice costs more than £4 million a year to run. Most of this is raised by 700 volunteers across West Kent and East Sussex who hold collection tins and help run shops.
The Courier revealed two weeks ago how staff shortages had forced its Rusthall shop to close early.
Mr Woolley said regional groups of volunteers, known as friends' groups, had fallen in recent years.
He said: "As they disappear we may have to reduce our services and we will have to cut opening hours of our shops, affecting our income."
The hospice's lottery had also been hit by falling numbers of volunteer ticket sellers.
He said: "Two years ago we had 9,000 people taking part in our lottery. This has fallen to 7,500. This puts us £50,000 a year down."
He added: "Another danger is that people do not find out about the hospice and its services. People may unnecessarily have to die at home in pain."
Mr Woolley, a former RAF medical manager, recently replaced John Ashelford, who retired after nine years. Mr Woolley left his job at a hospice in Blackpool to take up the reins at the Hospice in the Weald.
He warned potential Government budget cuts to social services could see the hospice called upon to do "far more" for carers and families in their own homes.
Corporate community fundraiser Rachel Holweger said as well as raising cash, people were needed to give talks to raise awareness of the hospice's work and to "dispel some myths".
She said: "Most people think they have to pay to use a hospice and don't realise its services are free.
"People also often think we are part of the NHS and that it's just a place where people come to die. We employ pre-bereavement counsellors as well but people are not aware of this."
She said volunteering could take up as little as one hour a week and could include working in a shop, holding an event, speaking to schools and clubs, or assisting with collection boxes.
She added: "All ages are welcome and we want people to know you can never be too young or too old to help and whatever time people can offer is hugely appreciated."
Anyone interested in volunteering should ring Jane Bagge on 01892 820526.