Volunteering with Crisis at Christmas (4)

I have become a volunteer for the first time in my 68 years. I am doing three shifts with the charity for the homeless Crisis at Christmas. I am working on 23, 25 & 27 December and have deliberately given myself a day off between each shift to recover physically and emotionally. My shifts run from 3-10 pm because I don’t like getting up too early in the morning. Crisis do not want us to specify the location of the centre (it was in central London) or the identity of the guests, but I would like to share some general information and impressions on my experience and I know that family and friends – and indeed Crisis itself – are keen that I should do so.

Yesterday I performed my first shift. We were advised at our prior induction to “dress warmly, dress down and dress modestly”. So I wore brown clothes with worn cord trousers and a jumper that has seen better days. Plus I left my Apple watch at home and kept my iPhone hidden. All the volunteers are given badges with different colours and letters indicating roles (I am just a general worker) and carrying first names. All the guests have coloured wrist bands, depending on whether they have simply checked in for the day or have been allocated nighttime accommodation.

Like all shifts, we began with a briefing reminding us of the rules – no alcohol, no drugs, no violence, no giving of money, no giving of contact details – and how to behave. Most of the volunteers were younger than me, many typically in their 30s. There was a pretty even mix of men and women and one male-to-female transgender colleague. The ethnic mix reflected the cosmopolitan nature of London and I found myself sitting between two young women of Chinese ethnicity and later met volunteers everywhere from India to Columbia. Volunteers work in pairs or teams, so you are never alone.

The afternoon was a quiet time. I volunteered to staff the games room with a volunteer who was a recently retired nurse originally from Ireland. In fact, there were few games in the room and few visitors to it. Most of those who visited simply wanted a quiet area to relax. However, I made a point of talking to each visitor to the area. I met a guy from Lithuania and used my two phrases of Lithuanian; I chatted to another guy of Turkish descent and used my two phrases of Turkish; I engaged with an Irishman (I stuck to English this time).  I helped one guest with a crossword and I (accidentally) beat another in a game of chess.

The evening was much, much busier. I volunteered to serve dinner to the guests. The floor was divided up between four teams and each team had a spotter who indicated who should be served next and what they should be served. The non-vegetarians (very much the majority) were given chicken, potatoes and carrots, while the vegetarians had macaroni cheese. Dessert was fruit salad or rhubarb crumble. It was an incredibly intense – but satisfying – hour and half, serving food, then collecting plates and dishes, and finally cleaning up. I came across a bunch of Italian guys and used a few Italian phrases with them which they liked. The guests were calm and appreciative.  Just a couple were a bit stroppy and I was firm but polite with them.

All shifts finish with a debrief. Crisis likes statistics (it encourages the donors) and so do I. We were informed that, in the course of the day (the first of this year’s Crisis at Christmas), this particular centre had around 150 volunteers (30 failed to turn up), about 400 visitors came along at some point, and just over 500 meals were served. Volunteers were encouraged to bring their own food, but I didn’t bother and I was not really hungry at the time (I went to a McDonald’s afterwards). Coffee and tea are available to the volunteers at all times, but I only had one coffee in the seven hours because I was so preoccupied.

Surprisingly, I was less impacted by the shift at the time than afterwards. At night, I did not sleep as well as I normally do. My mind was buzzing and I felt as I do when I am jet lagged. The experience was so worthwhile and so humbling.  I’ll be back tomorrow (Christmas Day).


  • Liz Williams

    A new type of volunteering to your other unpaid roles – very different mental stimulus, and I just know you will have been brilliant. You are so good with people.

    Chris volunteers most weeks at the soup kitchen near us and really ‘enjoys’ doing it. Life affirming stuff.

    I hope you have a good day today Roger and 2017 sees you healthy and happy. X

  • Hanna (Johnney) Khabbaz

    Well done as usual my GOOD and Thoughtful neighbour Roger.

    You certainly do things from the Heart because you want to (and not have to ).

    No doubt You were Happy helping others, BUT you have definitely made them much more happier especially at this time of the year.

    It is shameful that this country is hell bent on helping outsiders rather than its own 1st.

    You are and will ALWAYS be Blessed for the never ending good deeds which you relentlessly pursue.

    PS: I fully agree with Liz Williams


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