Lisa Lewis is Chief Executive of Doorway, a homelessness project in Chippenham, Wiltshire. Here she talks about her respect for Doorway’s many committed and dedicated volunteers.
There is a moment of calm, before the challenges of a drop-in session, when the team of Doorway staff and volunteers is sat around the table patiently waiting for the briefing to begin. There has already been a lively buzz in the atmosphere as people ready the building for the session and catch up with each other, gossiping and laughing like any other tight knit community.
As I glance around the table, before speaking and welcoming everyone, I quietly saviour the moment, and am filled with a bursting sense of pride and gratitude for the individuals surrounding me.
See, our volunteers are really very special people. Their ongoing commitment and dedication to our organisation, and the service we provide is unfaltering. It never ceases to amaze me that they show up week after week, and very often year after year. The public is often surprised to learn that we have a team of around 50 volunteers at any one time and they are mentored and supported in much the same way as both our staff and our guests.
And without our volunteers, we really couldn’t provide any kind of effective service at all. They form the backbone of the organisation and will perform different roles according to their expertise – some of them are cooks, or trustees or members of the Friends of Doorway, washer uppers, blog editors, or frontline befrienders in the drop-in sessions. Very often they will have an assortment of roles but always they are hardworking and an absolute pleasure to work with.
When David Cameron first announced his ‘Big Society’ flagship policy idea of the 2010 Conservative Party general election manifesto, I was incandescent with rage at the suggestion that people should be encouraged to take an active role in the community and that this was a new idea to be promoted by the government across our land for the good of our society. For those of us already working in the third sector it was perfectly obvious that these ‘Big Society’ ideas had already been in place for decades and groups of volunteers can be found performing essential services all around the country, and often doing a better a job than their public service counterparts.
So what is it that drives some people to volunteer and not others? I think that I have been most surprised at the fact that those who choose to volunteer do so with such energy and sense of purpose! Speaking to my long term volunteers, they state that they believe that they get far more out of the experience than they think they actually give back to the organisation.
Our new volunteers tend to be adopted into the Doorway family very quickly, with the opportunity to make new friendships, increase their levels of self-confidence & self-esteem, and learn new skills. It is also an ideal opportunity to gain a frontline insight into areas of potential employment associated with the issues of mental health, substance dependency, benefits, homelessness etc. We have such a wonderful mix of volunteers from new graduates who wish to gain some life experience to older retired people who miss cooking for their own families, and every type of person in between.
One of the other benefits of having an eclectic team of volunteers around you, recruited from different backgrounds and with different experiences, is that you never know what topics will be talked about in a drop-in session. I have had impromptu lessons in the most diverse range of hundreds of subjects including music, literature, philosophy, bird watching, the political voting strategy in the Eurovision Song Contest, scuba diving, and the purpose of a Winkle Club to name just a few; along with a number of subjects that can’t be publicly repeated. The conversations floating around the building are always enlightening and entertaining.
So, make some time and have a go at volunteering within your local community; you never know where it might lead…
You can visit Doorway’s website here.