As I write, I can see the sun – having made a comeback after a rainy spell – shining on the houses across the street. The sky is a pale blue with a scattering of a few barely visible, wispy clouds. Which of course makes the title of this post seem even more ridiculous.
Since 2011, it’s been around this time of year that I’ve started thinking ahead to Christmas. Not because I’m one of those super organised people who gets their shopping in well ahead of the inevitable December high street madness, but because Christmas for me has come to mean Crisis. And Crisis volunteer applications have to be submitted in October. This year I’m being given a head start, because I’m going to be a Key Volunteer and need attend a training session next month.
For anyone who doesn’t know what Crisis Christmas is all about, the basic idea is this: Crisis opens a number of centres for 7-10 days across London at the end of December. People who are homeless come along and get a hot meal, and can access various services while they’re there. These range from doctors, podiatrists and hairdressers to art and crafts, sports and CV writing, with loads more besides. The aim is to provide comfort, warmth and friendship during what can be a difficult time of year for some, but more critically to encourage people to take positive steps towards improving the quality of their life. For some this might involve breaking an addiction or cycle of debt; for others finding employment or reconnecting with family.
I’ve volunteered for a few charities, and have always found it enjoyable and rewarding, but I’ve never come across anything like Crisis Christmas. When I’m there, I work harder than I do in my regular job. I barely sit down all day, don’t stop for lunch (unless mince pies on the run count) and last year still went in on my day off. Why? Because it’s an absolutely amazing environment to be in, with some incredible people – guests as well as volunteers. I honestly can’t think of anything I’ve found more fulfilling than Crisis Christmas. It’s a bit crazy, a bit intense, you never know when you might be asked to clean the toilets, and you always end of your shift grubby and knackered, but you genuinely feel like you’re part of something worthwhile and special, and that by being there you’re actually making a difference to the guests.
Crisis is really where it all started. Volunteering there altered my preconceived notions of what a typical ‘homeless person’ is like (in short: there’s no such thing), and fostered what has become a growing interest in issues surrounding poverty in the UK. Every Crisis Christmas has strengthened my belief that I should be doing something other than teaching, and has made it harder to keep ignoring the persistent voice in my head that tells me I want my job to focus on making a real impact on people. So, along with the 4000 odd guests who attended Crisis Christmas last year, I feel like I also have something to thank Crisis for.