Why I volunteer at the 365 shelter

    The third contactless donation station in Bristol launched last week at Bristol Energy. It’s a quick and easy way for people to donate £2 direct to the four city night shelters.

    Since the original launch in May for the two stations in Broadmead Shopping Quarter they have taken approximately £3,000.

    The night shelters are free for the people who use them but St Mungo’s and the other charities we work with rely on fundraising and donations to keep them open.

    Heather Lister volunteers at the 365 night shelter. She tells us why and what it is like to offer support to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

    ‘I really enjoy working at the 365 shelter’

    I volunteer at the 365 shelter with my husband, Richard, once a fortnight. The shelter is in a Quaker Meeting House, and can accommodate 15 homeless people overnight. Two volunteers attend each night, with experienced members of staff on call.

    Why do I volunteer? We all see daily evidence of suffering, need, misfortune and injustice – I want to do my bit to try to make things better. It’s hard to ignore; misfortune and homelessness can affect anybody. Recently one of my sons became homeless when a long-term relationship broke down. Luckily, he could rely on family support – many cannot.

    I don’t think there are any special qualities that volunteers need, other than being happy to listen to troubles and triumphs, and having a conviction that this support is worthwhile – it is appreciated and it works.

    I really enjoy working at the 365 shelter. I don’t believe hardship and poverty improve anyone’s character or mental health – people may not be responsible for their situation, but they can still feel deep shame and become angry and depressed.

    But often we see the best of people – keeping their spirits up, being kind and hopeful, showing courage. I think we as volunteers can help people sustain this by being respectful and encouraging towards them.
    I can do little to change guests’ circumstances, but maybe I can play a small part in helping them endure and respond positively to help. So it’s enough that they appear pleased to see me, enjoy talking to me, and leave the shelter after a good night’s sleep with a smile and a lighter step.

    ‘What we do’

    Richard and I arrive at about 9.45pm to get things ready before guests arrive at 10.30pm. The first thing we do is check supplies (tea, coffee and sugar) and look through the hand-over book, where everyone who attends each night is recorded. We check whether there are any likely problems or considerations – we may be asked to give a guest a message or remind them of an appointment. Guests are referred by St Mungo’s, and we are given a list of people to expect. St Mungo’s tell us of any special medical conditions or needs people might have.

    Each guest is supplied with a camp bed and a plastic box with a sheet, duvet and pillow. When the guests arrive they find their boxes, set up their beds and have a welcoming cup of tea and a chat. First-timers are asked to sign an agreement comprising a few simple rules, and we help them settle in and see how things work. Guests are asked to arrive by 11.15pm. Many are exhausted, and all seem happy to get their heads down by about midnight. We provide ear-plugs (for the snoring!) Richard and I doze off on sofas just outside the “dormitory.”

    ‘People coming to the 365 shelter are diverse’

    People usually start stirring at about 6.30am. At 6.45am gentle prompting such as drawing back curtains gets everyone else moving. There’s another cup of tea or coffee, and off they go with our good wishes. Showers are available at The Compass Centre however, Bristol Quakers plan to build showers and laundry facilities at the Meeting House, which are much needed.

    People coming to the 365 shelter are diverse – in age, background and circumstances. Not all are without jobs – we’ve known some to get up well before 6.30am to travel to work. Some move on from the shelter quite quickly, being already on their way to getting their own accommodation. All are engaging with services. A camp-bed in a dormitory isn’t ideal, but it’s a warm, safe place to stay, and hopefully prevents many people in temporary difficulty from becoming stuck in a harsh, dangerous lifestyle in which it is easy to lose hope.

    Ours is a simple provision. We’ve thought of organising evening meals, but this would need more volunteers to do an evening shift, and there are other places providing free food in Bristol.

    If you would like to volunteer at any of the four city night shelters please contact the following people:

    St Mungo’s night assessment shelter: Sommer.Rouse@mungos.org

    Julian Trust night shelter: volunteers@juliantrust.org.uk

    Caring in Bristol 365 shelter: Alex.wallace@caringinbristol.org.uk

    Spring of Hope women’s night shelter: val@crisis-centre.org.uk

    You can also make an online donation via the SOSBristol fundsurfer page.

    ‘I’ve come a long way’

    Mohamed left care at 16, has lived in numerous hostels and is now on an FA Coaching course at Fulham FC. He shares his excitement about the opportunity he’s been given.

    I came to the UK as an unaccompanied child refugee. I moved from hostel to hostel. In the place I last lived, when you get to certain age they ask you to move on. I always thought I’d stay there until I was ready to move on. I left care when I was 16 and had to adapt and grow quickly.

    I’m 23 next month, so I’ve come a long way. I adapted by avoiding getting in trouble and negative situations. I started to realise that time is valuable. I also learned not to get involved in things that don’t benefit me. If you don’t have a good set of friends, you can get into trouble. When you’re younger, you’re exposed to a lot of things, like going clubbing, or just being out with your friends. I’m really happy that I avoided getting in trouble.

    Independence at 17

    When I was 17, I had just become independent. A lot has changed – I am more tuned in. I have adapted – no more wasting time, allowing it to go past me. When you get older, things become a little different. You have to fend more for yourself.

    The best thing you can have is positive support. I have the best support from Jackie, my St Mungo’s support worker and the manager, Octawia, also David, another support worker, they have advised and all supported me. I’ve been in hostels since 2011 and I’ve come across a lot of support workers in 10 hostels. I can honestly say this is the best support I’ve had from St Mungo’s.

    Jackie understands me. She talks and explains things to me like a human being and actually helps me – that is sometimes rare to find in hostels. I think that everyone who lives here would say the same thing. There’s no way I’m not going to take advantage of any opportunities.

    I never had any professional relationship with my keyworkers before. When I got inside the hostel, I lived in my room until I got moved out. There was no following up with things. My support worker is always encouraging me to achieve as much as possible and to focus on what I need to achieve.

    Opportunities make life better

    It’s great having the opportunity to do things – that’s what makes life better. I’ve lived in hostels since 2011 run by different organisations. The opportunities were there before, but they were quite limited because of where I was. They would only help you with the main things like studying or working. There weren’t the extra opportunities.

    Now I‘m on a Football Association (FA) Level 1 Coaching Course at Fulham Football Club which comes with qualifications. I was referred to it via another course through Arsenal FC – my support worker, Jackie, was the link.

    When I started at Arsenal FC, it gave me great motivation. I eventually got this opportunity which is consistent. The Arsenal FC course was eight weeks, which finished. I get to play a lot of football. Joining this course has helped to strengthen my position on the Homeless World Cup Team. We’re going to Russia next year. The tournament was in Brazil four years ago. Playing Brazil has been one of my dreams.

    ‘I’m humbled by the opportunity I’ve been given’

    I’m also involved with Become, the charity that helps young care leavers. Life is better. I’ve given up smoking – I gave up six months ago. I started smoking when I became independent due to the stress. After six years, I finally gave up. It’s one of my biggest achievements. My social worker has seen a dramatic change in me.

    I’ve just started at Fulham FC. I’m humbled by the opportunity I’ve been given. It’s really exciting. I get to be at Craven Cottage. I’m considering becoming either a trainer or a support worker with young people, to inspire them if they want to achieve – anything is possible. I feel like I’m doing something with my life. Being at Arsenal was exciting but Fulham is more exciting because of the added qualification. I get to go and watch matches, something I never had a chance to go do – it’s really nice and I’m grateful.

    Streets to Kitchen

    Streets to Kitchen is a community project from Better Food working alongside Square Food Foundation and St Mungo’s. The project is a one year training course for eight people affected by homelessness.

    The course teaches cookery and food service skills to students who will gain a vocational qualification in food safety. The weekly sessions give clients confidence in and out of the kitchen and aim to develop vital life skills, improved wellbeing and be encouraged to cook for others, potentially in a professional capacity. The ultimate aim is to create a café in the St Mungo’s New Street Hub.

    Navlet Anderson was the first person to sign up to the course and she tells us in her words why she was inspired to seize this opportunity:

    “I lived for over twenty years in addiction following a difficult childhood. I had long periods of time where I was homeless. I was vulnerable and drugs made me feel better about myself.

    “Following a short stay in prison I found myself with nowhere to live when I was released. I was offered a place in a hostel. It was here my life began to change. Through sheer determination I stopped taking drugs. I am proud to say I did this by myself.

    “I was offered the volunteering role on reception at the Compass Centre. It opened my eyes, I was humbled by the amount of people who were homeless and I made it my mission to help people.

    “After a few months I moved to St Mungo’s New Street reception where I work with people who are further along in the recovery process. I love meeting people and working on reception but it’s the kitchen that inspires me. A hot meal and a smiling face goes a long way to make people feel better.

    “That’s why I am so excited about the Better Food project, Street To Kitchen. There have been times in my life when I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from, food is close to my heart and fuels the soul. I had to work hard to find security from within myself.

    “I can’t wait to learn new skills and use them to help transform New Street into a cafe. To see the kitchen up and running would make me very happy. When I retire I can look back and say I was part of something good, something that encourages people to choose the right path, to build their confidence and self-esteem so they can help themselves.”

    Donate to Streets to Kitchen

    Better Food needs to raise £10,000 to fund Streets to Kitchen in its first year. Funds raised go to Square Food Foundation, who in turn will use the money to run training at St Mungo’s Recovery College in Bristol.

    The project team is calling for corporate teams to join in the fundraising. This can be a cake sale, a fun run or evening ball – the opportunities are endless for you to help homeless people find new routes to recovery. Donate online here.

    Danni Rochman Community Officer
    0117 935 1725 ext 214
    Email: danni@betterfood.co.uk
    Lucy Gatward, Marketing Manager: lucy.gatward@betterfood.co.uk

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