For the past 39 years, the homelessness charity Crisis has helped the homeless at Christmas with its dedicated Christmas centres across London. The nine centres, which open from 23-30 December, receive about 2,500 guests. It up to the 8,000 volunteers to help provide essential services, from haircutting (pictured above) to dentistry, lorry driving to performing arts, as well as some much-needed companionship.
Stefano is one of many volunteers who have gone beyond the call of duty at the The Blue Cross charity, which rehomes thousands of unwanted and stray pets from its 12 centres and provides subsidised vet treatment at its four animal hospitals, vet clinics and mobile clinics. Stefano volunteers at the Tiverton branch in Devon, which was badly hit by the recent snow. He managed to make his way there in his camper van when many others couldn't and has been camping outside to make sure he was on hand to help out. This is in addition to a sponsored Vespa ride around the UK earlier in the year, which took in all of The Blue Cross centres en-route.
Volunteers are among those working out in the cold this December in London, alongside experienced staff, as part of Thames Reach’s London Street Reach service. They work to help people sleeping rough source appropriate accommodation. The service sends shifts of workers and volunteers out on to the streets 365 nights a year. Working in pairs, they stay out from about 6pm to midnight every night, whatever the temperature. The charity says their work "helps to save the lives of some of the UK’s most vulnerable people" and it estimates that more than 20,000 rough sleepers have been helped by outreach teams including theirs in the past decade.
"At Samaritans, we answer a call every 6 seconds, even on Christmas Day. Our service is a 24-hour operation and we know that the holidays can sometimes bring on strong feelings for many individuals," says a spokeswoman. The 201 branches operated by Samaritans create their own local schedules of events with volunteers, meaning the volunteers are able to try and fit in Christmas around their shifts. The charity also provides a travelling listening service, which teams up with the homelessness charity Crisis to provide support to London’s homeless over Christmas. Samaritans estimates that each day about 2,750 people volunteer on its helpline. One such person manning the phones on Christmas Day will be 38-year-old Michele Pizzey, a mother and business owner. She will volunteer at Putney Samaritans in London, as she has done for the past three years. "Getting out of the house and being there for people who need someone to listen makes me remember what the spirit of Christmas is all about," she says. "It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done."
Age UK Leeds, a local partner of the national charity Age UK, says it has continued to deliver hot meals to older people living in the city, despite the cold weather, thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers staffing its Meals At Home service. The service supports people in later life who have difficulty shopping, carrying food or cooking it themselves. It says that by providing hot, nourishing meals ensures older people can continue to live independently in their homes for longer. The service runs 365 days a year and volunteers will be working on Christmas Day to deliver a special festive dinner and some Christmas cheer to hundreds of older people in the Leeds area.
At Mencap, which supports about 1.5m people with learning disabilities in the UK and their families and carers, volunteering is essential at Christmas. Sam Morris, Mencap’s head of volunteering, says: "People with a learning disability and Mencap volunteers will get the opportunity to spend time together this festive season when volunteers from England, Wales and Northern Ireland share their Christmas with people in residential, supported and independent living homes. Some of our Mencap volunteers have enjoyed sharing the holiday break with people with a learning disability for more than 30 years, exchanging Christmas cards and sharing a special festive meal."
Volunteers will be helping out at Dogs Trust’s 17 rehoming centres across the UK, caring for about 1,500 dogs. Tasks involve dog walking, feeding and cleaning kennels. The charity also pays tribute to its "amazing network of dedicated volunteer fosterers, who care for extra needy puppies and dogs in their homes". Dogs Trust will stop rehoming dogs from 19 December to 2 January in order to try and prevent people thoughtlessly buying dogs as Christmas presents, but potential owners are still welcome to visit and reserve animals.
It's not just in the UK that British volunteers are helping charities to carry out their important tasks. For example, VSO has 1,600 volunteers abroad in 44 different countries around the world, helping local organisations for poor and marginalised people. This includes people like Melanie Pearson who is currently in Rwanda volunteering as a primary methodology trainer this winter. Her role involves holding workshops for all teachers from the 76 primary schools across the Nyanza region in order to improve teaching methods. It is thought her work will help to benefit about 65,000 children.