We’re counting down! Bristol’s Big Christmas Dinner, part of our Caring at Christmas programme is almost about to be served. There have been many amazing donors who have helped us to move closer to our goal of making a place at the table for everyone who needs it. They know that an operation of its size, the biggest Christmas homelessness project in the Southwest, is an effective way to create a better Christmas, and start to the New Year for people experiencing homelessness. For those that don’t yet know about the week-long event, we asked our dedicated volunteer, James, to share his thoughts with you about his work.
James is a team leader for Caring at Christmas. He supports the staff and coordinates teams of volunteers who create each day for our guests. His journey began quite a few Christmases ago while out socialising with friends. He’d noticed more and more people sleeping rough, the most visible form of homelessness, and posted about it on his social media. He felt a call to action, and states, “I thought ‘You know what? I’m actually gonna do something about this now!’” True to his word, he did, and signed up to volunteer with Caring in Bristol, since carrying out several roles.
Although James’ initial impulse to act was several years ago, that same scenario is playing out yet again this Christmas. A city where friends socialise, shoppers shop and people go about their business, all running alongside members of our community who are experiencing homelessness; visible yet invisible, obvious yet forgotten. James, like our other fantastic volunteers and donors, has taken that powerful step of doing something. They see that change is long overdue and want to be part of it.
This Christmas James will be back taking care of both volunteers and guests. Arriving bright and early, he will sign in, and prepare to brief the volunteers to make sure each day gets off to the best start. He points out something fundamentally important about the atmosphere. He says, “It’s a community, even before the guests arrive – people from all different walks of life, which is really good!” The team spirit and diversity that he sees carries though to the guests. “It’s got to be welcoming, and it really is. We’ll have a couple of happy, smiley people at the door to greet them. I tell them to put a coat on because it’s usually quite chilly outside.” James knows that the physical warmth is just as important as the human warmth of friendliness that each guest receives. No one is left out in the cold.
“When the guests come in,” James explains, “they sit down, and when they eat, they get table service. The main hall is very Christmassy, and the volunteers chat to guests as they play board games, paint or whatever there might be that day. They also make sure there’s something playing in the cinema.” As he reflects on the variety of activities that are provided, it becomes easy to connect it to the warm family experience that many people have enjoyed. For someone experiencing the harsh reality of homelessness, a few days of restorative comfort doesn’t seem too much to ask for.
James knows first hand how much the guests value their time with Caring at Christmas. “They say they wish it could be open all year round,” he explains, “there’s a sense of sadness when it ends, but for that week, I think it’s invaluable for them.” We agree that it’s not just the amazing restaurant-quality food, entertainment, festive activities, and support, but the atmosphere of respect and kindness that is often sorely missed by people who are homeless.
After talking with James, it’s clear that the sense of community and togetherness generated at Caring at Christmas is very strong. For Christmas week, he says, “In the middle of Old Market, there’s this community. It’s amazing really!” Key to this working is the humanity that is deeply respected. “People forget that people who are homeless, however they ended up there, are all human. There’s never any judgement. It feels equal, our guests are just the same as me and you.” he reflects. “This is what the real levelling up should be like!”