Volunteers’ Week 2024

At Caring in Bristol the idea of fighting homelessness without the support of our incredible volunteers is unthinkable. They are part of the DNA of our organisation, not least because volunteers kickstarted and supported it from the very beginning.

Although many Bristolians may be familiar with the Caring at Christmas project, some may not realise that the organisation formed around this idea over three decades ago, and was the original name for what was to be renamed Caring in Bristol in 2015. This change of name reflected the growing scope of activity throughout the year, while retaining the focus on our city.

Christmas 2023 saw yet another incredible effort from volunteers; over 400 of them, clocking up a staggering 2741 hours of focussed effort. The planning, preparation, delivery, and wind-down of the project all being sustained by their determined input. It meant that 547 guests who were experiencing homelessness or precarious living situations weren’t excluded from the Christmas festivities that many might take for granted.

Over… and above!

The project gains a lot of attention. Unsurprisingly, because it’s the largest of its kind in the southwest. It was a joy to see our volunteers talking about their efforts in the media. For the same reason that Volunteers’ Week exists, to celebrate their achievements. On Boxing Day, when many were sleeping off their Christmas Dinners, three long-serving Caring at Christmas volunteers, Abby, Sophia, and Lexy, arrived before 7am ready to talk about the project, and why it is needed. This was a much-appreciated commitment, on top of their usual volunteering duties which were already demanding of their energy. You can see the clip below, with all three talking about the project they are delivering, along with other volunteers too.

It’s vital that the voice of volunteering is heard by the general public. Besides being a celebration of their impact, it’s a reminder of something important. For Caring in Bristol, it’s a reminder that there is much power in the community. Homelessness is of concern to all of us. The systems that we all depend on, and the decision makers that influence change, all have a responsibility to move towards solutions to homelessness as swiftly as possible. Until then, caring for each other as a community, and demanding change, are both vital – and beautifully exemplified by our volunteers. One of them said, “I saw this [project] on the TV and I was really proud that I’m part of something amazing. I tell everyone I know how important it is. You know, that we take care of each other when things get hard. It’s wrong to ignore people’s needs, isn’t it? Look at how everyone is making it such a lovely place to be. It’s how it could be all the time if everyone really cared for each other.” By pulling together, the volunteers have been able to make this vision a reality every single year for 34 years. This is something that our volunteer, Sophia, talked about…

Presenter (Fiona Lamdin, BBC): Let’s come  over and meet some of the volunteers so Sophia… she’s taken annual  leave to be here she’s just sorting out the  menus for today good morning to you Sophia… tell me about the amount of people yesterday.  200 in here eating?

Sophia: Yes, each year we see more and more people come to the project. I think this may be our busiest year yet. One of the things could perhaps be that the cost-of-living crisis … it’s really important  to us that people feel like someone cares about  them.

Presenter:  And this is your 10th year of volunteering?

Sophia: It is, I absolutely love it and we’re really lucky to have a really committed and dedicated volunteer team and we welcome new volunteers every year too.

Lexy goes on to talk about the various activities being provided throughout each day. Another volunteer, Paul, who also talked about the need for the project on TV, taking a few moments out from preparing the project to educate the audience about homelessness issues. You’ll see him in the ITV Westcountry clip below discussing homelessness, “You see it on a day-to-day basis throughout the year you know if you walk around the streets in any City, unfortunately, you’ll see a need for support for people who have got housing needs. Not just people who are homeless and rough sleeping but people who are just at a stage in life where things haven’t gone quite right for them…” And those things, systemic, external factors, are creating the complex situation, often referred to as hidden homelessness. Paul’s voice, like Sophia’s, as a volunteer is impactful, because he isn’t a politician or a bureaucrat. He’s a volunteer, a person who lives in Bristol, and a compelling example of how we should be looking out for one another. This video ends with a clip of the project’s volunteer Shift Leader Abby establishing both the need and success of the 2023 project, ensuring that viewers understood the worsening housing crisis was important news.

Paul has volunteered in other ways too. From helping to stuff envelopes for our campaigns, to supporting us in staff recruitment processes, and volunteering in Bristol Goods – our food project that is breaking the link between poverty and homelessness, and moving people back from a housing crisis.

Z House Shelter Volunteers

Each year there are hundreds of volunteers who give their time, energy, and expertise to support Caring in Bristol in its mission. All of our teams appreciate their input, and know that our services depend on them. Going forwards, next month our Z House, and emergency youth shelter, will start to provide a much-needed service to young people in a housing crisis. Volunteers will be critical to its success. As well as ensuring the smooth running of the Z House, it will mean the young people will get to meet a wide range of supportive individuals to be part of their journey. Over the past few months, as we’ve taken a thorough approach to making the project a success from day one, we’ve been meeting the volunteers who will be part of this pilot project.  Z House coordinator Josh told us, “It’s been a joy to meet prospective volunteers to talk about what to expect should they take up the role, and the huge impact that can be made. We’re continuing to hold information sessions in our St Paul’s offices, and some online for those who can’t make it in.”

Dedicated Volunteer Manager

We have much to celebrate this Volunteers’ Week as we reflect on the past year, and the many thousands of hours that volunteers have invested in changing Bristol for the better. As we look ahead, Caring in Bristol is investing in our volunteers, too. This year, Alex Hatherley commenced in her role of Volunteer Manager so that the level of support for our volunteers can be expanded. It is so vital that they are well-supported, and well-trained to be confident in their role. It’s important to Alex and Caring in Bristol that they feel confident and happy in what they do. She has also been working hard to develop a new volunteer portal, because we believe that our volunteers should have the best tools available to help them get the most out of their efforts. We’re looking forward to launching this within the next couple of months.

Alex, volunteer manager
Alex, our Volunteer Manager

If you’re interested in volunteering with us, you can contact Alex on volunteer@caringinbristol.org.uk

We’re particularly interested in volunteers for our Z House emergency youth shelter. Perhaps you’re feeling inspired to take action, like our incredible volunteers. You can learn more about this opportunity by reading about it here.

Thank you to Abby, Sophia, Lexy, Paul, and to the hundreds of you who turn up when it matters and when it’s needed, and bring about change to the people and families in Bristol who are facing or experiencing homelessness. Every one of you is adding to the impact of Caring in Bristol’s projects, and we appreciate you all!

Images of four volunteers mentioned in this blog
(L to R) Paul, Abby, Sophia, Lexi
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