Sheffield's unsung heroes - our volunteers - 16/05/2019
Services and charities that support vulnerable people living on the streets in Sheffield are full of unsung heroes; everyday people who willingly give their time to help others. Whether that’s chatting to guests at breakfast clubs, sorting donations, or helping prepare and serve meals, there’s always volunteering work available. People come from across the city to support others: students, life-long Sheffielders, older people - it’s a real show of community togetherness.
Help us Help visited some of the services and charities in the city centre to speak to volunteers and find out what motivates them to volunteer week after week. Thanks to everyone who took the time to speak to us. Here are your stories:
“I enjoy coming here and get genuine satisfaction from volunteering. There’s a real community feel, people look out for each other and notice if a guest has stopped coming. This past 6 months or so, the numbers of guests who are rough sleeping seems to have grown and that’s a concerning trend” – Kelly, volunteer.
“I’m not from Sheffield, but it feels like home to me now. In a small way, it feels like I’m giving back to the city I’ve made home. Coming here is a real leveller, it grounds me. The guests are really interesting to talk to, and the timing works for me – just a couple of hours out of my Sunday. We are starting to see new faces now, and our numbers are hitting the 100 mark” – Aaron, volunteer.
“I live in a student bubble up at the University. Coming here opens my eyes and gives me more of a perspective on what’s actually going on in the city. The team of volunteers are all great, and I know the work is needed. As it’s so flexible, its perfect for students to get involved in” – Billy, volunteer.
“Coming here makes me question and challenge those typical stereotypes around homelessness. When we think homeless, we think male and older, but here there’s all sorts of people. It’s not a burden on my day in the slightest to volunteer for a couple of hours, but I’m making a big difference to someone’s day, and that’s a great feeling” – Sam, volunteer.
“This is one way I can help that’s positive. I mean, I’ve got the time, so why not? I did HARC a couple of years ago, and that motivated me to get involved more regularly. And the guests are all so appreciative and thankful, and now that I’ve got to know them a little I feel a responsibility to keep coming, and keep helping” – Keeleigh, volunteer.
“I always work in the kitchen, and that’s great because I love to cook. I like to be behind the scenes, one of the many unseen helpers. It’s not about recognition for any of the volunteers here, everyone is just here to help and support people, and it’s great to be part of it” – Lois, volunteer.
“I like to think that if I was in a tricky situation, had lost my job and my home and been left with nothing, that people would be there to help me out. That’s why I’m here – I’m doing that for other people because I can. I’m giving back to people who need it most. My eyes are open to what’s going on in the city, in our communities. It’s a good thing to be able to do, helping others out” – Sunday Centre volunteer.
“I never realised that the work would be so involved and intense before I started volunteering here. It really changes your perspective – there’s so many different reasons why people become homeless or start using day centres such as this. Its definitely influenced my career choice for the future. I want to work in a place like this and make a difference. The stories that really stick with me are those of the younger service users. There was one who’d been on the streets since he was 15, after his family broke down. He started accessing support and was placed in accommodation. He was so used to sleeping on the streets by that point that he used to sleep on the floor of his flat in his sleeping bag. He was a similar age to me and that really hit home” – Phoebe, Criminology student.
“I’ve got lived experience of some of the same issues that people who use this service have. My son recently died after years of drug addiction, and that motivated me to get involved and volunteer, to do what I can do to help people. It’s helping me to work through what’s happened, and it’s also giving me a chance to help someone. By being here I could make a difference to someone’s life” – June, volunteer.
“I come from a small village, so we don’t really see people on the streets, or homeless people. Then I came to Sheffield as a student and I was really shocked by what I saw and wanted to help in a positive way. I was motivated to volunteer at a day centre to find out more, and now I know that homelessness is so complex – there’s mental health issues, substance misuse, family breakdowns, housing issues. So many things causing people to start accessing services like this. Its rewarding work though, you feel that you are making a difference. I’d like to be a therapist in the future and working here is helping me to develop the skills I need for that work” – Jess, Psychology student.
“To the outside World, it looked like I had a really successful life, great career, everything. In reality I was an alcoholic. My wife gave me an ultimatum – rehab or leave. And that saved me. I got better and was able to reconcile with my family. I saw Ben’s at a Christmas Fayre, and got chatting to Sue. I was looking for something to fill my time, but that was also a challenge. And Ben’s was perfect for that. I have a real empathy for our service users. There but for the grace, go I – some of those who use our service are at rock bottom, and I remember how that feels. There’s nothing more rewarding than one of them saying that I’ve helped them and made a difference. I see my role not just as about volunteering. It’s also about raising awareness in the wider community and helping people understand that they are just people, like you and me” – Alan, volunteer.
“I’m in recovery myself, having used drugs for 20 years. I volunteer here 3 days a week and just love helping people and talking to them. People are stuck, but I can tell them that I’ve been there. I’ve lived on the streets, whatever they are thinking or feeling, I’ve probably been there too, and I understand. I can be honest with them and tell them my stories and show them that it is possible to move past this and come out the other side.”
“I’m excited that we’re going to be working with Sheffield United on a rolling programme for clients – that’s brilliant. And we are hoping to start a project with Together Women, for women only, running self help groups, meditation, pamper days and stuff like that to try and encourage women into services. The problem is, they may come here and see people who’ve abused them, they may see punters in town, they’re scared and so they stay away. We’re really trying to get them to come in and access the support on offer.”
There’s loads going on in Sheffield’s recovery community. On Saturdays we get together, go bowling, go to the cinema, stuff like that and just talk. I’d say to anyone to get involved and lean on the support. We’re all helping and supporting each other”- Steph, Addaction volunteer.
* To get involved in volunteering with any of the services and charities in Sheffield, please contact them directly.
Alison Riggott, April 2019