As the festive season is drawing to a close, I thought I'd share a little with you about a slightly alternative Christmas tradition that my family have started up.
Crisis at Christmas is an annual event set up by Crisis, a UK charity which battles homelessness. Crisis at Christmas opens centres from the 23rd to the 30th of December that provides companionship, services, meals, and activities for the homeless over the festive period.
My Ma and my brother have been volunteering for years now, but this was my first time joining them; having said that, it certainly won't be my last!
The centre where I was volunteering had everything from clothing, IT training and Christmas dinner to dental services, a five-a-side football tournament, haircuts and live music - so not only is it some of the homeless population's only opportunity of the year to access vital services, but it's also an amazingly valuable experience for them to kick back and enjoy themselves. Previous guests at the centre have said that their time there gave them the sense of self-worth that got them to turn their lives around, and nothing can be more valuable than that.
Most of the running of the centres is done by volunteers, and this year ten thousand of us helped to provide a week of safety, comfort and entertainment to over four thousand people who need help.
I was a general volunteer, and had been warned that it was include some pretty unpleasant duties, such as cleaning loos and standing in the rain to welcome guests to the centre. However, I was lucky enough to remain Marigold-free and (mostly) dry, and most of my duties were honestly a pleasure rather than a chore. Most of my time was spent serving hot drinks and biscuits with a balloon-animal poodle stuck on my head, discussing our chances for the five-a-side tournament with my centre's team, or sitting down for meals with guests and volunteers alike. I can't remember the last time I felt like I'd made new friends so quickly, or left an experience with such knowledge that I'd truly made a positive difference.
Just a few hours out of your Christmas week can make such an enormous difference to so many people. My first shift was on the first day, and quite honestly by the fourth day, if you'd taken off our volunteer badges, you would not have able to tell the difference between guests and volunteers - four days of grooming, food, healthcare, fun, and a roof over their heads makes the most astonishing and visible difference.
I wholeheartedly believe that Crisis at Christmas is the most amazing thing anybody could experience at Christmas. You can register as a volunteer in London, Newcastle, or Edinburgh in October, but Crisis works all year to fight homelessness, so you can volunteer, fundraise, or donate all year round.
This is definitely the start of a new family tradition - one of my younger brothers is old enough to come along next year, and I cannot imagine another Christmas in my future that doesn't involve some time at Crisis.
One of the guests said to me when I was leaving my last shift "You have to come back next year; you're family now." I told him that I wouldn't miss it for the world.