Volunteers’ Week 2023

Here's just one of many examples for Volunteers' Week of how our volunteers are changing things for the better in Bristol.

One of our Bristol Goods volunteers, Derrick, talks about his volunteering. In his words, “It’s a bit like stitching things together. Different parts of your life start to come together.”

Volunteers have always been critical to Caring in Bristol’s work in pushing back against the causes of homelessness in Bristol. They bring a diversity of skills and knowledge to what we do, and a perspective of Bristol that deepens our understanding and effectiveness. Every week our staff and volunteer teams work together to deliver work that is bringing change to the city.

Our Bristol Goods project grew out of the Cheers Drive initiative during the pandemic when the “Everybody In” program meant people experiencing homelessness were often finding themselves in temporary accommodation without cooking facilities. Volunteers helped to deliver over 160,000 meals, and even carried out 20,000 symptom checks – all helping to maintain wellbeing at one of the most challenging periods in living memory.

How it began

As the pandemic subsided, the link between food insecurity and housing insecurity has intensified. Today, as we all face soaring prices, our volunteers continue to help us mount a response to break the link between food costs and homelessness. One such volunteer is Derrick. Well known in his community, he is now Bristol Goods’ resident greengrocer. Initially a customer at one of our pop-up food markets in BS13, he rolled his sleeves up during one particularly busy session and has been volunteering ever since.

Fighting a barrier

The sessions are friendly, community events, and Derrick had been questioning whether to volunteer his time – but he wasn’t sure. “I had to fight a barrier,” he remembers, “a barrier that basically kept on saying ‘Sit down. You’re a customer.’ And then one week they were short-staffed. I stepped in and from then on it’s been brilliant.” We’re glad his impulse to get involved boosted his confidence. Many of us feel unsure before volunteering, even having done it before, but the rewards quickly emerge. “I’ve done so much volunteering over my lifetime,” he says. “This is a little step, but it’s a nice step because you feel you’re wanted. People actually care what you do. We get friendly customers, and you have a laugh.” he adds. Volunteering with Bristol Goods has become an important part of his week.

A different style of caring

Like the other local volunteers at Bristol Goods, Derrick brings an understanding of what it’s like to live in that community and what some of the local issues are. This is vital expertise in making sure that the project works in partnership with the communities that it serves. He’s seen firsthand how things have changed for people in his neighbourhood. “People are tentative about what’s going on in the world,” says Derrick, reflecting on the uncertain economic climate that is adding so much pressure to life. “We give them support and a different style of caring. You know, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 60, or whether you’re 18, you can be whatever age and everybody’s in the same situation.” Making food affordable, providing choice, along with information and advice has been instrumental in the project preventing homelessness from happening in the first place – definitely a different style of caring that Derrick observes.

As he talks about it, it’s clear that he has a strong sense of ownership of the project. This reflects how integral the volunteers are to its running, helping to shape both current and future activity. When we talked to Derrick, he could see the groundswell of demand for Bristol Goods pushed by the cost-of-living pressures, and undermining people’s ability to pay their rent or mortgage. “It’s either food or bills,” he reflects, “and whatever comes in, bills have to get paid. I think personally the group is going to get bigger and bigger over time. I think we’re going to have to get a bigger van.” His prediction was accurate, with more individuals worried about being able to afford to eat and maintain a home, the project was needed even more – along with a bigger van.

A little bit goes a long way

Derrick’s input has helped the project to develop, but it’s also opened the door to other opportunities for him. Since volunteering with Bristol Goods, he has been asked to support other local projects that have further supported the local volunteering infrastructure. “I couldn’t do it without support I’ve had through Bristol Goods,” he says. He reflects on how important volunteering with Bristol Goods has been in promoting his confidence. “I was actually going into my shell, which I think that can happen to any of us, particularly after the past few years that we’ve had where we’ve had to be apart from people a lot of the time… and that distance has been not just a physical thing, but a psychological thing. Volunteering has pulled me out of my shell. I just want to be joyful with everybody. I do it for pleasure, and to help people out. I can do my little bit, but a little bit goes a long way.”

As Derrick said, “It’s a bit like stitching things together. Different parts of your life start to come together.” All thanks to the amazing power of volunteering!

Volunteer and staff from the Bristol Goods team working in the community

If you are interested in finding out about volunteering with Caring in Bristol, take a look at our volunteer page. We are currently interested in talking to potential volunteers for our forthcoming Youth Shelter. Read our blog about the shelter, and find out how to get in touch with us about becoming a shelter volunteer.

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