I initially started my volunteering journey in November 2019 whilst I was at university studying Criminology and Sociology. It was a particularly cold, windy day and I had offered a man in the city centre, a McDonalds but he asked me if I had money to give instead. I felt really conflicted by this so politely declined but felt that I really lacked an understanding as to why he was asking for money and whether or not I should have given it to him.
I found The Whitechapel Centre whilst doing some research online and submitted an application to become a volunteer. During my training session there were so many options for me to choose from but I felt really drawn to the dynamic and fast paced environment of the day centre on Langsdale Street. However, I knew this was quite an ambitious choice as I was only 18 and had never done anything like this before.
I began volunteering every week and loved meeting so many new people, being able to provide a listening ear and make a tiny difference to someone’s day even if it was as simple as making a cup of tea or getting them another biscuit. Unfortunately, not long after I really got into the swing of things, the pandemic struck, leading the day centre to close and my role as a volunteer to change.
I began to drop off the food parcel provision for those in Covid emergency accommodation at various hotels and B and B’S across the city, working between the newly developed day centre and our donations centre. Whilst I still felt like I was making a difference and everyone was so grateful, I really missed the face to face aspect. As such, I began the next step of my Whitechapel Centre journey and encouraged by my fellow volunteers and manager, I applied to be a member of the bank staff.
Successful in this application, I was able to take up shifts in the main Covid emergency accommodation as part of the ‘Everybody In’ campaign. This was a big change from the food parcel delivery I had become accustomed to but I quickly fell back into the swing of the frontline role I missed. After 5 months of bank shifts, I was offered a permanent part time contract which allowed me to have my first caseload which I shared with another member of staff. This responsibility provided the opportunity to develop skills that been introduced to me in my very first days as a volunteer in Langsdale Street.
September 2021 saw the closure of this provision and a new role for me within the Outreach team. I quickly fell in love with this way of working and felt so inspired in the way the team worked together to find solutions for those who were rough sleeping, sometimes for the very first time. Despite this, the circumstances were often challenging, particularly in the winter months but there was such a sense of achievement in finding a housing solution for someone who had spent so long without accommodation.
During this time, I began to see a pattern in some of the people we were seeing on a regular basis and I was putting referrals into the Pathways team, who provided intensive outreach support to those where substance misuse is a barrier to accessing or maintaining accommodation. A lot of these referrals were for people that the system didn’t accommodate for and had been evicted or discharged from mainstream services for non engagement, leading them to continually rough sleep.
At this point, the end of university was fast approaching and I was looking for my post graduate job. Having been made to feel so welcome and motivated over the years, there really was no other option for me than to continue working at The Whitechapel Centre. I was fortunate enough to be offered a role on the Pathways team, finding my real purpose in support and advocacy, in a role where every single day is different. From teaching safe injecting on the street to taking people for manicures, from outreach in the snow, ice and rain to stadium tours round Anfield, I continue to feel so inspired by the staff, volunteers and people we supported over the years, knowing that I am so lucky to do a job that I love.
We’re fortunate to get a lot of support from local businesses, many of whom send their employees out for a corporate volunteering day - but for some employees, one day of volunteering just isn’t enough! We spoke to one of our volunteer drivers (and all-round superstar!) Cath to find out how she got involved with volunteering through her employer:
How did you first get involved with The Whitechapel Centre?
I was the CSR co-ordinator at my previous employment and it was part of my role to get involved with the local community. We are given 1 day per year to use our CSR helping local charity’s and the local community. I found out from the building reception I worked in that they took part in a 2 week CSR project that they helped out at The Whitechapel Centre with preparing and serving breakfasts for the service users. I thought this would be perfect for our office. I arranged with David, the Volunteer Manager, a 3 week rota of helping out at The Whitechapel Centre with the breakfasts. Given the volume of staff available we were also able to help out with sorting the donations out, clothes for the service users and clothes for resale at the shop.
What made you come back?
I came back as I really enjoyed the clothes sorting, and the energy and passion that David had, got me hooked. I reduced my 5 day week to a 4 day week so I could stay involved. I come to the centre as much as I can and enjoy engaging with the service users.
How has your employer supported your volunteering?
My employer supported me by allowing me to reduce my working week.
What’s your favourite thing about volunteering?
I love the interaction with the Whitechapel employees and their energy and positivity, I enjoy working with the other volunteers and I enjoy my missions and work at Blackstock street.
Do you have any advice for other people that might want to get their employer involved in volunteering?
I would definitely recommend volunteering at The Whitechapel Centre, if you have spare time then get your name down for volunteering, the volunteers and staff make you feel very welcome and part of the team, and it’s a wonderful feeling being part of it.
Colin has been volunteering with The Whitechapel Centre since Christmas as a driver, collecting and delivering donations between venues. Colin is also a keen triathlete and when lockdown arrived many of his planned events were cancelled so he decided to set himself a challenge and raise sponsorship for the charity at the same time.
Throughout May Colin was up early running, starting with 1km on 1st, he increased his distance each day by 1km, until 31km on the 31st of the month. In total, Colin ran 496km, and for the last 10 days was running more than a half marathon a day!
Despite Colin’s fitness he found it tough going, “I’ve done endurance events before but to run every day for a month, with increasing distances, is really challenging, pretty much everything was sore by the time I finished.”
Through his volunteering, Colin has seen how the Whitechapel Centre has been supporting people who are homeless during the pandemic. He explains, “I’ve been helping out a couple of days a week, picking up donations from companies and then dropping off food parcels to clients around the city. It’s been good to see Liverpool’s response to the pandemic, people have been very kind.”
You can see all of Colin’s daily updates and sponsor him here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Colin-Vallance-Owen1
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