Volunteers are a part of everything we do at Caring in Bristol.
Our vision is of a city empowered to solve homelessness, and working with people in our community who are generous enough to give up their time and skills to help out is central to achieving this. It’s a great way to make new friends, learn new skills, and most importantly, to help support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in regaining their independence.
There are tonnes of different ways to get involved with Caring in Bristol- we’re firm believers that everyone has something they’re good at- and to give you a flavour of what to expect, we interviewed veteran volunteer Bee about her experiences.
Please can you introduce yourself? What’s your name and whereabouts in Bristol do you live?
I’m Belinda, but I’m usually known as Bee. When I first started with Caring in Bristol I lived in Fishponds, but I now live in Clevedon.
“I feel that anything I can do to help someone be safe, warm and comfortable at night time is always a positive!”
How long have you been working with Caring in Bristol and what made you want to start, and how did you first get involved as a volunteer?
I started volunteering with Caring in Bristol shortly after I retired from my long term career as a midwife in 2017. I absolutely know how lucky I’ve been in my life – I have always had somewhere warm and safe to sleep, and I wanted to use my skills and time helping those who have been less lucky.
I was motivated towards volunteering with people facing homelessness because a family member lived on the streets in London for 13 years. I have seen how effective and wonderful having the support of an organisation like Caring in Bristol can be; that family member is now living happily, independently and working in a managerial role for a national homelessness organisation.
I feel that anything I can do to help someone be safe, warm and comfortable at night time is always a positive!
How has volunteering changed your perceptions about homelessness in Bristol?
I’ve learnt a lot about the different types of homelessness. Before I volunteered with Caring in Bristol I just saw homelessness as rough sleeping because that’s the most visible type, but now I’m aware of all the hidden forms of homelessness, like those who are sofa surfing, people living in hostels, B&Bs and refuges, and those in squats.
Most of the people experiencing homelessness I have met have simply come across some hard times. When I’ve been volunteering in the 365 shelter, we’ve had people who have come in later after work, or who need to get up early to go to work. They have jobs, but still don’t have anywhere to live.
Could you talk us through a typical volunteering shift for Cheers Drive? Are there any particular jobs you look forward to or people you look forward to seeing?
It’s always nice to see familiar faces when we meet up before a shift. Depending on which shift we’re on, we might be sorting and loading food portions into hot boxes before loading them into a vehicle and delivering, heating up food for BOSH (Bristol Outreach Services for Homelessness) to take away, stuffing envelopes with fund raising communications, or collecting cooked meals from local community kitchens to bring back to the HQ for future distribution.
On a delivery shift I really enjoy saying hi and chatting to some of the guests I know from the 365 shelter and Caring at Christmas who are now in shared housing with proper living facilities. They’re safe, warm and lot more comfortable than when they were sleeping in the shelter. Bingo!
What’s lovely is that everyone is friendly, chatty, and there to achieve the same thing, whether it’s Caring in Bristol staff or other volunteers. I always enjoy my shifts!
What has been your proudest moment as a Caring in Bristol volunteer?
Golly, I had to really think about this one. For me, pride doesn’t really come into it. While I guess volunteering is a bit altruistic, I do it because I have the time and skills, and because it gets me out of the house, meeting other people, making friends, but most importantly making a positive difference to someone’s day or life.
My most emotional time though was probably when I was one of the people given an award at the post-Christmas project party, as special thanks for my involvement with the Caring at Christmas project in 2019. I really hadn’t expected anything like that, and was very humbled to have been recognised.
“I do it because I have the time and skills, and because it gets me out of the house, meeting other people, making friends, but most importantly making a positive difference to someone’s day or life.”
Is there anything in particular that stands out to you about Caring in Bristol relative to your experiences in previous volunteering? What keeps you coming back?
I keep coming back because I can keep making a difference! I do volunteer with another organisation, and my overall experience with volunteering is that you’re very much appreciated. Caring in Bristol staff are always friendly, helpful, polite, and just fandabadozy! They always check that the shift went ok, and do anything they can to help resolve any problems.
Finally, what would you say to someone who is considering donating their time but isn’t quite sure whether they want to take the plunge?
Well if you don’t try it, you won’t know! I haven’t regretted volunteering with Caring in Bristol for a single second, and plan to continue for as long as I am able to. The staff are really supportive, and make sure that you’re on shift with a more experienced volunteer until you feel confident. I would say: “go on, you know you want to really!”
To find out more about volunteering and to hear about upcoming opportunities, sign up for our volunteer mailing list.
All photos courtesy of Jade Carr-Daley.