Volunteering is not just for ChristmasReporter Charlie Bullough looks at the need to help charities all year round.
Christmas can be a time when people are at their most generous.
It is revealed not just in the presents that they give to their loved ones, but also in the way they show ‘good will to all men’, women and children.
An army of volunteers from charities up and down the country are gearing up for what can be a lonely and desperate time of year for some.
But, problems of homelessness, hungriness and debt are not just tied to the festive season, they are constant issues all year round.
Dr Claire Bonham, The Salvation Army’s volunteer development manager, said: “Christmas is a really popular time of year because everybody associates the Salvation Army with Christmas, which is wonderful. But sometimes it’s frustrating for us as we kind of want to say ‘these people are here for the rest of the year’.
“People who are experiencing homelessness are still lonely in July as much as they are in December.”
The Salvation Army has no trouble attracting volunteers, they have 12,000 of them. But it is not all soup kitchens and brass bands playing at Christmas - far from it. It also tackles some of the heaviest issues of our times, like modern slavery, anti-trafficking and helping in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire and the Manchester bombing.
Emily Silva is one such Salvation Army volunteer. She acts as a driver for potential victims of modern slavery. She said: “My role as a volunteer driver means that I can be called upon to chaperone potential victims of modern slavery by escorting them to a place of safety, usually by car but sometimes by train.
“The days or nights I get called out, I know I have made a difference in someone’s life. It’s obvious really – I have petrol in my car and I can play this small role in helping someone, so why wouldn’t I do it?”
Another volunteer who will be lending a hand to people in crisis this Christmas is Rosie Campbell, from the Samaritans. She regularly does festive shifts for her local branches.
The grandmother-of-three, said: “In many ways a shift over the Christmas period is very similar to a shift at anytime. Probably the characteristic is that you get a kind of exaggerated effect among our callers. The big one is loneliness.
For obvious reasons it’s a time when everybody is seeing family and loved ones. If you aren’t in that situation, plus you are very depressed or you have an addiction or have a break up with family, or you have been feeling suicidal anyway, this is an absolute trigger point. It really has people sinking particularly low.”
She said there can be a “double whammy of downers”, with feelings like despair and loss.
So how to you deal with someone in that position?
Direct advice isn’t given but the caller and listener engage in a sort of brainstorming session discussing the options available.
But her role is all year round. Outreach work is done at prisons, homeless shelters, halfway houses and at universities during freshers’ week. Rosie explained: “Things peak around Christmas but our service is never quiet. There are people in miserable situations 365 days a year.”
Older people can feel particularly isolated. New research commissioned by Age UK found that 2.65 million older people feel they have no one to turn to for help and support.
The charity recently launched its ‘No one should have no one to turn to’ campaign.
Its charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “We have a rapidly ageing population and it is heart-breaking to think that more than two and a half million older people feel they have no one to go to for help – that’s more than the entire population of Birmingham. The fact is that getting older can be really tough and however resilient you are it’s important to know someone will always be there for you, come what may. That’s what we aim to be for older people at Age UK and we know it makes a huge difference, especially for those with literally no one else they feel they can ask for help.”
The charity has a free and confidential advice line for older people, their families, friends, and carers.
Last year the Advice Line received in excess of 210,000 calls. Hundreds of hours of free advice and support were dispensed every week on issues like mobility problems, staying independent at home, managing health issues and forms of cognitive decline, and dealing with money worries.
The charity boss added: “Older people and their loved ones call our Advice Line for all kinds of reasons, often at their wits’ end, but whatever they are worried about our expert advisers are fantastic at offering help, pointing them in the right direction and providing reassurance and a listening ear.”
The campaign has got the backing of actress Dame Judi Dench. She said: “We all know that ageing is inevitable, but it’s heart-breaking to think of older people who feel they have no one they can turn to.
“Age UK is working hard to change this, and by supporting their ‘No one should have no one to turn to’ campaign you can help them to be there for older people who might have no one else.”
These are just three charities with volunteers who are striving to help people at their lowest ebb. But there are many other ways in which people can make a difference at Christmas and the rest of the year.
How you can help others at Christmas - or any time of the year
Useful links and numbers:
Homeless charity Shelter has a range of ways to volunteer. See england.shelter.org.uk/support_us/volunteer.
The Trussell Trust runs a network of over 420 foodbanks, which work out of more than 1,200 centres across the UK. See www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/.
Barnardo’s is the UK’s largest children’s charity. See www.barnardos.org.uk/get-involved.
Age UK Advice Line can be reached on 0800 055 6112 from 8am to 7pm daily. See www.ageuk.org.uk/get-involved/ for more.
The Samaritans are available anytime by ringing 116 123. See www.samaritans.org/volunteer-us for more.
The Salvation Army has centres all over the country. It is on the lookout for help all year round. See www.salvationarmy.org.uk/volunteer-for-us.