I’m not keen on the cold weather. I can’t bear being cold and this past week I’ve wrapped myself around any available radiator, doubled up on the socks and moaned to whoever would listen about feeling chilly. But on Saturday I went along to an event that made me realise just how lucky I am.
Birmingham Christmas Shelter is a registered charity offering food, warmth, shelter and companionship to homeless and lonely people over the Christmas period. Together with my colleague Tracey, I’ve volunteered to work a nightshift this Christmas so we were invited along on Saturday to find out more.
Along with 49 others, Tracey and I listened to an inspiring talk by the trustees of the shelter (don’t let the name trustees fool you into imagining sombre, grey suited, financial types – these trustees are as about as dynamic and hands-on as you can get). We discovered that the shelter is open 24 hours for one entire week from December 23 each year and is run and staffed entirely by volunteers. Any vulnerable, homeless or lonely individual is welcome to make use of it’s beds, hot showers, food and entertainment.
From sandwiches to singing
The role of us volunteers will be varied – we could be making cheese sandwiches one minute, mopping a floor the next or simply playing cards and chatting to a guest. We were asked to be ready to play bingo, make beds, serve tea and even sing kareoke – whatever it takes to make Christmas a little brighter for someone.
The shelter also offers haircuts, chiropody, dental treatment, clothing and access to the internet as well outreach services such as The Samaritans.
The trustees made it clear to us that as volunteers, judging the people who use the shelter is absolutely not an option – the doors are open to all and no questions are asked. It’s just a safe haven at a cold and lonely time of year.
You can’t change the world in a week
It was a fun and enjoyable morning; we all had some coffee and a laugh at some of the stories from past years at the shelter, but the message was serious – this shelter is a lifeline for many and while the trustees stressed that we can’t change the world in a week, we can make a difference to someone’s Christmas.
So I shall be thinking twice about moaning again – my toes might be a little chilly in bed at night, but at least I have a bed, a roof over my head and a warm and happy Christmas to look forward to with my family. While most of us are opening our presents and tucking into turkey with all the trimmings, many people will be sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures or spending a Christmas alone in a bedsit or hostel.
Can you help?
You can help the amazing people at Birmingham Christmas Shelter continue their work by shopping online with easyfundraising and choosing the Shelter as your cause and by volunteering for a shift over Christmas.
Find out more about the importantace of volunteering this Christmas: