As I heaved my already full to bursting body onto the cosy sofa, a mince pie in one hand and a half finished glass of seasonal Port in the other, a slow realisation dawned on me. Tomorrow would be Boxing Day. Hardly a revelation in itself admittedly, but this Boxing Day wouldn't be one of those lazy ones with a welcome lie-in followed by a visit to friends or a leisurely walk. Noooooo. This particular Boxing Day held my first volunteering shift at Crisis at Christmas.
Why volunteer? Why now? Good question. But the answer is a bit...erm...vague I'm afraid. It just felt 'right'.
I love Christmas and feel incredibly lucky that I can choose to spend it with my two beautiful girls (and they still want to spend it with me!) I have a more than enough food to eat and a roof over my head, a regular paycheck and even a holiday or two to look forward to. My girls are happy and healthy. In comparison to many I am blessed. Truly.
So I woke up one morning in late November and felt that I needed to do something. Anything. I googled 'volunteer work' and Crisis was at the top of the page. Spookily the deadline for applications ( I stupidly thought I'd just be able to turn up. So naive) was that day so I hurried mine off, clicked 'submit' and then carried on with my life.
A week letter a confirmation email of my acceptance arrived - I would be an Arts and Crafts Workshop Leader. I had NO IDEA what I would actually be doing but at least I'd be helping. I'll be honest, it felt really good!
Four weeks later, after a lovely cosy Christmas, I turned up at a less than salubrious part of South East London at 10am on Boxing Day. Tired, a tad apprehensive but with an open mind and my 'ready for anything' hat on.
In their own words:
' Deptford Reach is a drop-in centre for adults over 16 years of age who are vulnerable through homelessness, mental ill-health, loneliness, social exclusion and severe poverty.'
Deptford Reach are open all the year round but close over the Christmas period which is when Crisis step in. Crisis provide many facilities that we take for-granted - showers, hair cuts, massages, clothes (when they can get them from donations) as well as counselling. There is IT support, entertainment (quizzes, bingo, musicians) and an Arts and Crafts room.
2010/11 has been a difficult year for many with the effects of the recession and rising unemployment. Deptford Reach has seen many people pass through its doors and is painfully aware that situation will probably become far worse with the new 2012 changes to Housing benefit .
I must admit I felt a bit clueless in the first few minutes but I was soon able to get stuck in. The Arts and Crafts room was a place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the canteen/bingo hall/common room downstairs. A place to experience new crafts or do some painting, drawing or collage. On my second day I brought crochet hooks and wool. After demonstrating how to make a Pom-Pom everyone seemed to want to have a go!
One client spent the next two days making pom-poms of various sizes which we decorated the room with. We also learnt how to make felt and I taught a bit of crochet. More f un times with wool! On my final day another Workshop leader showed us all how to create a woven mat using strips of scrap fabric. I may show you how to later if you ask nicely...
What I loved about everyone who visited was not only how willing they were to try anything, but also how obvious their pleasure was when they had created something, anything, to treasure or to give away. We discovered some amazing talents amongst some of the most interesting and generous people I've ever met, clients and staff alike. True story.
Life changing? I wouldn't go THAT far. But would I do it again? Of course! 3 days out of 365 was a teensy amount of time to give - I'll certainly be going back for more....probably way before December!