Volunteers’ Week is a time to celebrate the incredible year-round work of volunteers in our society. At Caring in Bristol, volunteering is part of our DNA. It’s always been integral to the way we’ve worked. Here we meet Bee. Her journey as a volunteer with us spans many years and several projects.
Volunteers step into their work for many reasons. For Bee, it was after a relative had a prolonged, chaotic spell of street homelessness in London. Bee didn’t see things resolve until they arrived in Bristol and found some effective support. She says they “couldn’t have done that without some support from voluntary services.” The support was a foundation, and her relative now works as a manager in the sector too. Bee is clearly a natural supporter, and proudly describes this recovery process as “fabulous!” She also finds it moving to reflect on someone’s ability to turn their lives around, and it’s clear this belief in people’s capacity to transform their lives is a key motivation for her extensive work at Caring in Bristol. It’s a belief we share wholeheartedly.
This personal call to action led Bee to volunteering in our 365 Shelter. Initially unsure what to expect, she soon found her stride, realising the impact of her work. She reflects on the complexities of one 365 guest’s life and says, “If it wasn’t for me, and the other volunteers, he would be sleeping under the stars, which sounds romantic when you choose to do it. Maybe you’re in a lovely campsite, and you’ve got a loo and a shower. But when you’re sitting in a corner on a street, with people just walking past you, not talking to you, just ignoring you because they just don’t want to see what’s happening…” We pause to think about this common occurrence, but this highlights how volunteering is an antidote to the apathy that we see around us. It is a positive action that tackles injustice and inequality, transforming things for the individual, as well as amplifying the urgent collective push for a greater movement for change.
Bee’s contribution also had an impact on the service itself, enhancing the culture of support. Learning from her experience as a new volunteer enabled her to get involved in new volunteers’ inductions, also working collaboratively on creating a shadowing process where new volunteers had a buddy to work with to quickly develop their confidence in their role. “I felt very supported by caring in Bristol,” she recalls, “There was always somebody on call if we needed them. I really enjoyed it and enjoyed working with the volunteers. We got a good bit of team working going on!”
When the lockdowns meant the 365 Shelter was unable to operate, Bee got behind the wheel of Cheers Drive, a pioneering project that delivered food from caring hospitality partners to those who had been placed in hotel and other accommodation under the Everyone In scheme. The support of Bee and over 150 volunteers on this project enabled it to respond at scale in an extremely agile way, pivoting resources to where they were needed. We all remember the isolating effect of lockdowns, and Bee’s face was one of many that reminded people they were not forgotten, and that they mattered.
The Caring at Christmas project is a massive effort, and Bee has gifted her time and energy to making this annual event happen. She reflects on the difficult feelings that can emerge at this time of year when you’re a person affected by homelessness. “Well, it’s difficult Christmas, isn’t it?” she reflects, “You look at what people think Christmas should be, and it should be spending time with a family, having lots to do, eating, watching films on the telly, and playing games. They’ve got a Christmas tree with presents under it? Well, no, they haven’t! The fact is that Caring at Christmas means they’ve got somewhere safe to come, that they’ve got amazing food, clean clothes, and they can have a shower. It’s just giving back something, isn’t it?” Most definitely, it’s a restoration of something that’s denied to many, some being denied more than others.
However, it’s deeper than this. Bee identifies a fundamental essence of this project, which is “making sure that that there is some warmth there. And I don’t just mean physical warmth, I mean emotional warmth as well.” It is at this point that we become aware of the humanity that is central to volunteering. Acknowledging that basic things are missing from some people’s lives, and then doing something to acknowledge and remedy this inequality. Bee is clear that volunteering makes sense in her life, saying, “I was lucky to take early retirement. I’m still young. I’m still very active. I’m still very able to do these things. So why wouldn’t I do it?” This is a powerful question that all prospective volunteers might ask.
Our immense gratitude goes to Bee and the many other committed volunteers who give their time, energy, and constantly developing skills. They make things possible. Their actions create change in our city. Injustices such as homelessness will only be solved by the collective efforts of us all. Our volunteers agree, and their work is instrumental in driving this organisation’s work forwards.
We are Caring in Bristol, and so are our amazing volunteers.