For three decades Caring at Christmas has pulled out all the stops to make sure people experiencing homelessness are not left out in the cold throughout the festive period. This year it will feature Bristol’s Big Christmas Dinner, making sure that more people than ever have a place at the table. It’s the biggest Christmas homelessness project of its kind in the southwest, and it couldn’t happen without the support and dedication of our volunteers who are involved in the many strands of work a complex operation on this scale demands.
One of our sparkling Christmas volunteers is Abby. She’s been an integral part of the team for the past seven years, and it’s clearly made a difference to the project’s guests and to her. She gets straight to the point of what it means to people experiencing homelessness, saying, “I would like to think that somebody would help me if I was in that position. And if I didn’t have anybody that could help me, there would be somewhere I could go for help. I think it’s important that everyone always has that option, and has that opportunity to go somewhere, because no matter what happens, sleeping in a doorway isn’t a home.” It’s a timely reminder of the power that the human connections that we create are the foundation of a caring society. We need more of these, and Abby goes on to say, “Homelessness happens 365 days a year. It’s not just at Christmas. You should be able to close that door at night and feel safe. And if you’re sleeping in a vehicle, you’re not safe, you’re just as vulnerable as somebody on the street. And that, I find it really upsetting.”
Abby’s insight into the different kinds of homelessness, whether that’s having to sleep in a car or other precarious situations such as sofa surfing, is one of the driving forces behind Caring in Bristol’s work. Although there is a massive effort to create Bristol’s Big Christmas Dinner and the other Caring at Christmas work, it sits alongside several other strands of work towards solving homelessness throughout the whole year. The services and advice that are provided over Christmas are intended to point towards a better new year for people, helping them find the information and energy to explore their options.
Her experience in the several strands of the project have enabled her to gain an insight into what makes the project work so well, and to take on the role of team leader to support shifts of volunteers who work front of house, behind the scenes. All of this before, during and after the hive of activity during Christmas Week. “There’s so much more to it than what people see on the coalface, and opportunities for people who don’t want to do guest-facing roles,” she says, “and when volunteers need support, there’s always people in the room to ask.”
Volunteering in the project has had a huge impact on Abby. “Christmas for me has completely changed.” She reflects on the value of time with her own family, and she has balanced that with the positive impact that she has seen for herself. She talks about the joy that it brings to her, “It genuinely makes me happy when you ask where somebody is, and they’re not there because they found permanent accommodation, or they’re in a different situation now – for the better! I do think I am really privileged to know that to be able to be in that position where I can help somebody in that tiny, little way along that path.”
There are a variety of roles that power the Caring at Christmas project. Being Bristol’s Big Christmas Dinner means a huge catering operation. We very much appreciate the support it receives, drawn from some of Bristol’s top restaurateurs who create the festive food. Abby has been involved in the catering function, as well as in delivering the food that she’s helped to make. The project delivers food to those who can’t get to the project’s base. This includes people who are in temporary accommodation, and those who have managed to overcome a period of homelessness.
Over the years of welcoming guests into the warmth and safety of our temporary centres, Abby has built a rapport with many of them. She talks about the different situations she has mentioned that have changed lives for the better. She recalls meeting people who have been made homeless, forced by lack of options after losing employment and accommodation to live temporarily in a cheerless hotel. Abby describes an emotional moment when they came into the project and said, “We’ve got permanent accommodation. We found out this morning!”
This year Abby will be back, working hard alongside the rest of the teams hoping to make this the biggest event ever. As winter conditions and the cost-of-living crisis continue to heap pressure onto all of us, we recognise that there are some who are closer to the edge than others. Caring in Bristol looks for ways to help people move back from this precarious place throughout the entire year. Creating a safe and welcoming haven for those who need and deserve it means they are not left out in the cold. Abby sums up her whole experience of helping to make this happen by saying “It’s really rewarding!” But we know that behind this humble statement is a depth of feeling for others who are experiencing real difficulties beyond their control, and to demonstrate the importance of Caring at Christmas.
The project runs every day from Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. You can make a difference like Abby by donating to Bristol’s Big Christmas Dinner by donating here, and find out more on our volunteers’ page.