For the last 35 years, homelessness charity Crisis has sought to bring some Christmas cheer to homeless people and those without permanent accommodation by running its Crisis Open Christmas service (COC).
It operates a series of centres across London providing temporary beds, hot meals, access to essential services such as health care and vital companionship for homeless people. This year seven centres in central London will operate from 23 – 30 December, five of which will be open for 24 hours a day. They are staffed by over 5,000 volunteers who work shifts over the Christmas period.
Mark Wollard is a 33-year old funeral director from Whistable in Kent. Every year, for the last 10 years, he has volunteered to work for Crisis Open Christmas. He tells Anabel Unity Sale what he does for the service and why:
What do you do for Crisis?
I’m the food services coordinator and so I oversee the food service. I am responsible for making sure that all the kitchens at the Crisis Open Christmas centres around London are in place, they have chefs and cooks, and there is food at each of the centres. In 2005 we made 33,000 meals for clients and volunteers over the seven days. We expect to make the same number of meals this year.
Do you enjoy volunteering?
Yes, I do. During the time that COC is open it can be very hard as my main role is to sort out any problems. It’s only after that I can look back and get enjoyment from my work.
What made you get involved with COC?
My flat mate volunteered and I dropped him of at the centre. I looked in and saw the centre changing during its set-up so I went back when the centre was open. My involvement grew over the years to where I am now. Until then I’d had no experience of homelessness.
What do your friends and family think about you doing COC?
They are all used to me being at the centres now so don’t expect to see me over the Christmas period. Most would like to help but have family commitments.
How does volunteering make you feel?
It’s a great achievement and very rewarding. It’s better than sitting in front of the telly watching repeats!
Do you miss having Christmas at home with your family?
No. I come from a small family and we are spread all around the country.
Why should other people volunteer?
It’s a very humbling experience and shows how fortunate we all can be. Volunteering is worth giving a go. Don’t be put off if you’re not sure how you can help. Any skill is useful and the most rewarding thing you can do is talk to someone. When people are on the streets they tend to be ignored, and by talking to them you help restore the human element of life.
* To find out more about volunteering for Crisis Open Christmas call 020 7246 3872, email email@example.com or apply online at www.crisis.org.uk/volunteering Applications are being taken up until 23 December, and potentially beyond.