Being inspired to volunteer at 6.30am

Last Wednesday I attended a volunteer induction evening at Providence Row. It was being held to inform potentially interested volunteers about our new Early Morning Service which starts at 6.30am. Guests in attendance were from Wallis, Torstone Technology and J Peiser Wainwright, along with myself, a member of the fundraising team at Providence Row. After listening to Leigh, the Local Team Manager, talk about why the Early Morning Service was so important, I left that evening feeling inspired. I felt motivated. I felt ready to wake up early each morning and tackle rough sleeping with all the strength I had.

I’ve volunteered a lot throughout my 30 years. I’ve travelled to Thailand for a month after the 2004 tsunami to help clean up the wreckage and devastation that occurred. I’ve painted schools and initiated recycling projects in India. I’ve taught English grammar to schoolchildren in Bolivia. But it’s not just about visiting exotic places. I’ve slogged it out in London offices too. After graduating from university, I volunteered at international development charities, despite working full time already, because I was desperate to put my hunger and passion for social justice to good use. Whilst the roles weren’t glamorous and were most definitely boring, I kept myself going by telling myself that the work I was doing was relevant. It was useful to the charity because I was doing all the essential jobs that no-one ever had time for. I used to also regularly volunteer for Medical Aid for Palestinians. The most satisfying experience I gained from that was helping to run an emergency fundraising appeal in January 2009 that raised £1 million pounds in two hours for the purpose of getting medical supplies into the occupied territories of Palestine.

I’ve loved being a part of all of these charities and all of their causes. But in each of these volunteer placements in London, there was always something missing – direct contact with the people you are ultimately helping. It’s very hard to maintain enthusiasm and motivation when you never get to meet the people you’re doing all this for, face to face. Sometimes you reach a point where you’ve written so many reports, processed so many donations, shaken hands and smiled at so many rich benefactors that you forget the purpose; you forget the reason why you’re there giving up your spare time, working for free.

Volunteering at Providence Row is different. You actually get to meet, speak to and build a relationship with the people that you’re helping. People come in stiff and bent from the pain and cold of sleeping on a hard pavement. A hot shower makes a huge difference. People warm up, they loosen up. Ask any person who comes in here if they'd like to have breakfast and they'll say no, they want a shower first. The Early Morning Service is all about getting rough sleepers off the streets and into our centre. The earlier they can come in, the more likely they are to stay and engage with our staff and our services. We don’t know how many rough sleepers will turn up each morning. It changes everyday. Having volunteers in our centre at 6.30am to help run this service encourages the beginnings of a relationship. Our project workers focus on working with our clients to make a practical change, but our volunteers are the welcoming face. They provide the breakfast and spend time just talking to our clients over a cup of coffee. We share jokes, stories, bits of the morning’s news. It allows our clients to feel human again, to feel cared for and respected. It breaks down those internal walls and sows the seeds for trust. Whatever the circumstances that occurred in their lives that resulted in them sleeping rough on London’s streets, we at Providence Row aim to change that.

It was that sense of urgency and necessity that really came through on that Wednesday evening last week. On more than one occasion Leigh used the phrase “we save lives”. Every day that passes where a rough sleeper isn’t accessing immediate front-line services that will get them off the streets, is dying a little bit more each day. The average life expectancy of a homeless male is 47 years old. To know you’re a part of ending that is enough to get even the laziest person out of bed at 6.30am…