Christmas 2018 saw over 35 Berkeley staff work together to end homelessness by volunteering at Crisis at Christmas.
This annual project is run by our strategic charity partner, Crisis, and works to offer essential support services to over 4,600 guests who are welcomed into the pop-up centres between 23 and 30 December. The centres provide guests with access to showering facilities, medical professionals, advice on issues ranging from housing to immigration, three cooked meals a day and crucially, the chance to access Crisis' year-round support services in the New Year at one of their 11 Skylight centres across Britain.
Berkeley's volunteers formed part of the army of 11,000 volunteers across the Christmas centres, who offer companionship and support to homeless people at a particularly difficult and dangerous time of the year. Duties varied from serving hot drinks and Christmas dinners, to running arts and crafts activities, supervising areas and stewarding guests to ensure that each and every one had the best possible experience of the centres and Christmas.
Sari Thomas, Marketing Manager at St George, spent the day at the Outreach Rough Sleepers Residential centre in Paddington.
"I have always wanted to volunteer, particularly around Christmas, but never found the time. The Berkeley Foundation has provided so many opportunities for us, so this year I volunteered for Crisis at Christmas. So many people have told me what an amazing experience this will be and today is the big day!
3pm - I've arrived for the beginning of the shift and immediately run into my colleague Rachel from our West London office. She's been here since 7am and gives me the low down before she clocks off for the rest of the day. We sign in and head up to where all the volunteers are and I bump into another friendly face, Sally, the Head of the Berkeley Foundation. I quickly realised I'm lucky to have crossed paths with either of them, there are about 150 volunteers and the same number of guests in the day centre. We are given a quick briefing by the shift leader and then on to our first tasks!
4pm - My first task is to man the entrance of the toilets, providing access to the disabled toilet when needed. Not the most glamorous job, but one of the guests keeps me company and it isn't long before we are both crying with laughter. Everyone here is so friendly that striking up conversation isn't difficult.
5.30pm - Another task is to stand outside the entrance and welcome guests into the building. One man on his arrival gives me a huge hug, saying "Thank God you are still here!" I panic, thinking he's mistaken me for someone else before realising he is just really grateful that the centre is open. He hasn't got anywhere to sleep tonight.
6.30pm - The centre is noticeably quieter and some of the guests explain that this is because its mild outside. All of the people I speak to are so grateful that we are here either way.
9.30pm - Time has flown by and it's suddenly the end of the shift. We have a debrief with the shift leader who tells us the day catered for an average of 200 guests at a time, served 264 plates of food and processed 94 referrals to get guests into accommodation. For everyone at Crisis, it's just the beginning of the week and it's about to get a lot busier. Crisis at Christmas has been a really positive experience and I'm sure I will be back."
We would like to thank all those who volunteered for their time, enthusiasm and compassion.