Twenty vibrant years at St Mungo’s

Jen, St Mungo's Creative Arts Volunteer

“The enjoyment of it has kept me going for 20 years. It’s a great pleasure. It’s all the people that I meet and talk to, and the work that I see.”

As we celebrate Volunteers’ Week, Jen Burnham, St Mungo’s Creative Arts Volunteer, tells us about what she’s learned through volunteering.

I’ve been a volunteer at St Mungo’s for 20 years. I was one of the first volunteers on a programme called ‘Make It Work’ which I think was the beginning of a formal volunteering programme at St Mungo’s. Now I understand it has something like 900 volunteers a year!

I’m almost 75 years old now. I’ve always had an interest in art but I never did much with it. In 1998, I was at a dead end in my life and I decided to do some art-related volunteering, including an art group at St Mungo’s in Argyle Street, King’s Cross. I was made very welcome there.

A few years later a member of St Mungo’s literacy team produced a booklet of poems by Argyle Street residents and asked if we had some artwork that could be included. The resulting booklet was much admired and one resident Joe asked, ‘why don’t we do this on a regular basis?’ That was the beginning of Homeless Diamonds magazine. It started as a photocopied A5 booklet for art and writing from the King’s Cross area; it’s now a glossy A4 magazine for all of St Mungo’s and a bit beyond (thanks to support from Regional Director David Devoy, who from the start has supported the project).

We produce three editions of Homeless Diamonds per year, each containing the work submitted since the previous issue – no more and no less. Everyone who submits will have something printed. On the suggestion of contributors we have recently set themes for particular editions, but always maintain this submission policy.

Producing Homeless Diamonds is a big, varied job; the hardest (and most rewarding) bit is gaining contacts with residents throughout St Mungo’s and encouraging them to contribute. We are very lucky to have our volunteer designer, Gasan, who has designed most of our editions. When all is gathered, typed, corrected, photographed and laid out for the printers we can look forward to celebrating with a little launch party; then the task is to get our 350 copies distributed, to all the contributors and to as many residents of St Mungo’s as we can,

It’s clear that contributors value the magazine, and that it gives them a great boost to see their work printed in a quality publication. It’s a wonderful way to communicate across boundaries, at a more personal level.

The enjoyment of it has kept me going for 20 years. It’s nice to see contributors as they progress in various ways (including working at St Mungo’s) – many have told us how much their engagement with the magazine has helped them. There is a huge pool of experience, and talent, at St Mungo’s, a resource of great value to society.

Volunteering has helped me a lot. I had lost confidence in myself when I started, and it gave me an experience of being valued that I really needed. And I stumbled upon such interesting people, such remarkable characters! So the feeling was mutual!

I hope Homeless Diamonds will continue, perhaps as part of St Mungo’s Recovery College, when I get too dotty to carry on.

If you have some spare time and would like to make a difference to someone who is experiencing homelessness or a decline in mental health please visit St Mungo’s current volunteering opportunities. You can also email: VolunteerServices@mungos.org or call 020 3856 6160 for more information.