Food and friendship on Sundays - The Sunday Centre - 13/09/2018
On Sundays in Sheffield, homeless support services are closed. So, if you are homeless or vulnerably housed, socially excluded or in need of company, want somewhere to get warm and sit for a while amongst understanding friends, wish to enjoy a hot drink and a home cooked nourishing meal, then the only place to go is the Sunday Centre.
For the past 25 years, the team of volunteers have been welcoming guests and providing all of the above and much more to people in need in Sheffield. Based in the Victoria Hall Methodist Church building on George Street in the city centre, the team open the doors at 1.30pm and serve a two course feast for their guests, purchased with donations, all produced from a little kitchen by 4 volunteer chefs and served at 2pm sharp. Guests leave with goodie bags with bread, cakes and fruit for their supper, thanks to generous support from local businesses.
The Sunday Centre is a crucial service in the city’s support system for homeless and vulnerable people and plays a major part in keeping people fed and well, particularly in the winter. The volunteer team are totally inspiring in their selflessness, working away to benefit others, never complaining, and always ready to share a joke with the guests, many of whom are regulars, and all of whom are treated with the utmost respect.
I have volunteered at the Sunday Centre on a couple of occasions, and each time I have been shocked at the level of need that exists in the city. Guests who attend the Centre are clearly very hungry. My previous visits were in the winter time, and people were literally freezing, hugging their cups of tea and coffee, trying to defrost their frozen hands. My most recent visit was on a bright spring day, but the hunger and signs of difficult and desperate lives were still clear to see.
Each time I’ve visited, I’ve been particularly struck by just how many students from both Hallam and Sheffield Universities are part of the volunteer team, willingly sacrificing their Sunday lie in to support vulnerable people in their adopted home city and smashing the ‘lazy student’ stereotype with their compassion and work ethic.
On the menu the day of my recent visit was sausage casserole, with veggie sausage casserole as an option, both served with Yorkshire pudding, potatoes and vegetables, slices of bread and butter for mopping up the gravy, and ginger cake and custard for pudding – lovely! As the guests tucked into their meals, I chatted to Steve, the chairman, and he said the thing he hoped for was that people in the city would read about the work that the Sunday Centre do and be motivated to do something to help, but most importantly to think kindly about those who access the service.
After lunch I spoke to some of the guests about what the Centre means to them, and everyone spoke in glowing terms about the food and the volunteers. One lady, a long time regular, reminded me that she never eats anything, but just comes for the company and to chat to friends.
Two older gentlemen were chatting about what they had been doing that morning and described the volunteers as ‘world beaters’.
Away from the main dining room in the quieter games room I spoke to one lady who said she had been coming to the Centre on her own for a couple of years. ‘I feel safe here’, she said ‘I know everyone looks out for me here and the food is lovely. It’s not just for homeless people, you can come here if you are lonely and need company and somebody to talk to’.
Another guest told me how she’d first visited the Sunday Centre when she became homeless after being evicted from her property. ‘I came for food and warmth as I was living on the streets back then. These people here are like a secret hidden community. Nobody knows we exist or notices us, but we all look out for each other’. She explained that she was now sorted with her accommodation, but still comes down to the Centre most Sundays to see friends and catch up with people, because, ‘it’s special here’.
One of the regular volunteers, a Masters student at the University, grabbed me to share a story from a couple of weeks ago. One of the male guests had become agitated waiting for lunch to be served and had got aggressive and confrontational in the dining room. She told me how a female student volunteer, had gone to him, calmed him, and quickly made a makeshift lunch of soup and bread. ‘He was just hungry, really hungry and feeding people is the best way to show we care’.
The Sunday Centre relies totally on donations, as it receives no funding. Current support from local businesses including Roses the Bakers, and Greggs is great, but more corporate support is always welcomed.
Individuals can support the Centre by donating fruit, cereal bars, toiletries, biscuits and cakes for the tea bar. If you are able to donate cash, just £20 covers the cost of 10 guests attending a Sunday session, and £100 covers the cost of one guest attending for a full year. Anything you are able to give would make a real difference to their work, as buying in food to prepare meals is their biggest cost.
Volunteers are what keeps the Centre running, but there’s no compulsion to work every Sunday – you would be welcome as a one off, once a month, or as and when you were able to help. It’s very flexible, so perfect for people with busy lives and other commitments who would love to help out on an occasional basis.
If you know you will have a spare couple of hours on a Sunday lunchtime, why not consider volunteering?
You may wish to organise a targeted donation drive at your workplace, school, university or church. Perhaps you could collect packets of biscuits for the tea bar, or boxes of Cup-A-Soup, or mini sized bathroom supplies for guests? Please do contact the Sunday Centre to find out what they are most in need of at any time.
To support the work of the Sunday Centre, in any way, please contact them via their website: https://thesundaycentre.org/volunteer-with-us/, on Facebook at The Sunday Centre, or on Twitter at Sunday_Centre.
Alison Riggott, SheffGives