"So Crisis have asked me to blog about my experience at volunteer at Crisis at Christmas and as I type I have no idea what I might say as a wave of emotions and memories have descended on me and it’s very hard to put them into the order as this year will be my 5th year of volunteering and therefore the events seem to have been filed into one big Crisis file so some of these events may be a bit mixed up, so you’ll have to give me some artistic license!
I started volunteering in 2009 purely for selfish reasons, just out of a long term relationship I was alone and Christmas and decided I needed something to fill my time in. I quick search of the internet for volunteering opportunities led me Crisis Skylight and that was the start an application form and a short induction later I was walking across the Tyne Bridge early on Christmas Morning ready for my first shift totally oblivious as to what was waiting for me.
Nothing anybody can tell you will prepare you for your first ever shift at Crisis it will so far removed from anything you can imagine however it will be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.
I remember in my first year volunteering in the café, one of the busiest areas at Christmas. I was front of house tasked with talking to guests and making them feel welcome and explaining what was available at Crisis over the Christmas period. After talking to a few guests who were really happy and full of the Christmas spirit I approached one guest why was sitting on his own and asked him if he wanted to talk and was told in no uncertain terms that he didn’t! I didn’t give up and kind of saw it as a challenge. I suggested that he when to the clothes room as I noticed that he had no socks on and again his response was for me to go and talk to someone else. I got him a tea and just sat with him and eventually he began to speak, all he wanted was to be warm, he didn’t want to talk to anybody he just wanted to warm up, he was HIV positive and struggled to keep warm, he was too tired to walk to the clothes bank and really didn’t want to be sociable because quite frankly he didn’t feel like he had anything to be sociable about. I went to the clothes room and got him some socks and some jumpers and a fleece in the hope that this would warm him up and we encouraged him to have some food which he did. I would like to say by the end of the day he was joining in and have a great time like most of our guests but that would be a lie and in truth I never saw that guest ever again, however hopefully and maybe only for a few minutes I hope that he felt somebody cared and for a few hours at least he felt warm.
I remember being promoted to be a Volunteer Area Leader on Boxing Day of my first year on the basis that some volunteers hadn’t turned up and I said I could use operate a radio, in truth I didn’t have a clue but all boys think they can operate a radio! 'DO YOU COPY', 'ROGER OVER AND OUT', you see I can use a radio! Things don’t always go to plan at Crisis, volunteers don’t turn up, keys get lost we run out of toilet roll, all the guests arrive at the same time, volunteers decide they need to leave early and when these things happen we just have to do the best we can and that’s the fun of it.
Over the years I have got more and more involved with Crisis at Christmas getting involved in planning and helping arrange the event prior to it happening, looking for donations and recruiting volunteers. I have always done 2 shifts one on Christmas Day and one on Boxing Day and I have to admit I usually sleep for a 16 hours after my Boxing Day shift as I’m shattered. I have done various roles on the day from volunteer to Volunteer Shift Manager. All roles are very similar in that the main purpose of being there is to make sure that the guests have a good time, I guess that the higher up the chain of command you get the little bit more responsibility you get until you can’t ask anybody else for help you just need to make the decision. The role of a VSM will be easy if they have a good set of volunteers working with him as then most of the decisions are already made for them. Sometimes being a VSM means you get to deal with all the problems and therefore it can have its moments of stress but when the final bus comes back and the key is turned on the door lock for another year the sense of achievement is huge.
Things stick out in my memory that remind me why I keep doing this, I remember in 2010 our first guest arrived at 7.15am in the morning (we don’t open until 8am) She was 18 and when I asked her why she was her so early her response was she had nowhere else to go. That same year an old lady from Byker came in on the bus, she was in her 80’s and was alone on Christmas Day she stayed for some lunch and got some new clothes and a Christmas present and got the bus home after a couple of hours. These guests show the wide range of people that rely on Crisis at Christmas for very different reasons both equally important.
I can’t pretend that it’s all fun watching some people walk away into the night on Boxing Day know that they have nowhere to stay doesn’t get any easier no matter how many years I do this. I have had unblock toilets, mopped up sick and sorted out the odd scuffle over the years, however every year I come back because it feels like I’m doing something worthwhile, and when I guest says to you that he cannot understand why anybody would give up their time in order to do something for them you understand exactly why you are doing it and why it doesn’t matter if you have to unblock a toilet or mop the floor because hopefully you have made a different to somebody and made them realise that somebody does care about them."