However, it never felt like a significant or tangible contribution for me; I wanted to experience first-hand where my support was going, how it was truly affecting the lives of those it invested in and comprehend the lives of those struggling through personal dilemmas.
As a benefit of being a Total Media employee, we are encouraged to dedicate a day a year to a charity cause, separate from our annual leave allowance. Utilising this one day to work for such a meaningful cause undeniably put things into perspective for me; if every person in the office used this day, a third of each year would be spent making a concrete impact to a plethora of organisations.
I have always known about the Crisis for Christmas scheme and the relaxed, sociable set up is what interested me first and foremost. I wanted to speak and to be amongst the 10,000 homeless men and women Crisis shelters over the Christmas period first-hand, in an environment where they felt safe and secure. Homeless guests can enjoy hot food, a shower, a haircut, clean clothing and clothing repair at the centres. They can also access medical services including a dentist, counsellors and physiotherapists. As expressed by my shift leader across the days, there are no real rules at Crisis; there is no set itinerary of amenities to visit.
The volunteers are briefed at the start of a shift, which involves news from the shift prior, motivating quotes and a quick talk through of facilities available. Working at a media agency, I appreciate the importance of a good handover! Mirroring the relaxed feel, most volunteers are not given a set post and are encouraged to talk to the guests, share a meal with them or offer assistance where needs be. You may be put on ‘gap duty’ which requires you to man areas and entrances, however, the setting is open to roam freely and the shift rushes by serving food and drink to the guests, joining in on the various arts sessions available and sitting outside on the patio have a good, old chat about interests.
It was also incredible to meet so many volunteers, who had once been guests and hearing about their astonishing stories, overcoming drug and alcohol addictions and how Crisis contributed to their smooth transition back into societal living. Many volunteers were once homeless guests, who return to the site to assist and educate highlights the fruitful rehabilitation that the Crisis scheme has provided; many would find it challenging to be surrounded by the same woes that echo their own past demons however, a large percentage of volunteers return to show their support and appreciation for this charity.
The focus is on expression, collaboration and entertainment is what makes this scheme truly unique. Crisis want this to feel like their home across the 10 day period with no conventional obligations that force change over this time. This is the one aspect I appreciated the most when I worked there; the comfortable environment drove openness between guests and volunteers, allowing organic conversations to take place and natural relationships and realisations to grow.
As the number of people taking up traditional volunteer positions through smaller organisations and charities is dropping, with many seeking to join schemes abroad, providing that ‘vacation’ element, it’s essential we use opportunities like this to support our local community and make a difference.