Are you considering volunteering in Nottingham? Ever wondered what it’s like to volunteer at a support centre in the city centre? Rosie volunteers in our kitchen and Night Shelter. Here she tells us more about her experience volunteering at Emmanuel House…
How long have you volunteered at Emmanuel House? What prompted you to get involved?
I started volunteering in Nottingham at Emmanuel House in April 2019, having read a story about head chef Joe in the Nottingham Post. Joe’s work and dedication to Emmanuel House inspired me to get involved and help out in any way I could. I was born and bred in Nottingham and I’ve watched the city’s homeless crisis get worse and worse – it’s impossible for anyone to avoid when walking through town. It’s hard to know how to help people that are clearly struggling, so I wanted to help in a safe and supportive way.
With a few years’ experience of working in front of house jobs – restaurants, hotels and galleries – I’m now a lot more eager to do practical things that get me on my feet and make me use my hands. I work full time for a PR agency and spend most of my days sitting at a desk, so volunteering was a brilliant way to revisit skills I hadn’t used for years – carrying three plates, basic food preparation, how to mop a floor properly, serving a lot of people all at once and having to remember how everyone likes their tea. Working at Emmanuel House makes me use my brain in a very different way to how I use it in my day job – it’s really refreshing.
How regularly do you volunteer at Emmanuel House?
I help in Emmanuel House’s kitchen on some weekends, and also do evening shifts at the Night Shelter. In total, I tend to do between 3 and 4 shifts a month.
The shifts are easily manageable and don’t really impact on my weekend plans. Saturdays are 3 – 6:15pm, so you have time to have a relaxing morning beforehand and go to the pub afterwards. Sundays are 11:30 – 3pm and you get a homemade Sunday lunch afterwards, so you really can’t complain.
Evening shifts at the Night Shelter are 8 – 10:30pm and are in various church halls around Nottingham. These shifts involve helping to set out the camp beds, serving hot drinks, making toasties and heating up soup and tinned food.
The beauty of the volunteering system at Emmanuel House and the Night Shelter is that you can be as flexible as you like – you can commit to as many shifts as you can to your schedule. The team is always really accommodating if you need to swap days.
What do you enjoy about volunteering at Emmanuel House?
- Talking to people you wouldn’t normally meet – whether that’s service users, support workers, other volunteers, chefs, fundraisers – there are so many different people coming into Emmanuel House everyday and no one is the same.
- Supporting the community – Nottingham is an incredible city and I’m lucky to have lived here most of my life. There is a brilliant community of people that simply want to help others and it’s a privilege to be a part of. Events like Hockley Hustle and Light Night – even other charities’ fundraising such as Framework’s Beat The Streets – shows that there is a huge appetite to help in fun and creative ways and being involved in Emmanuel House gives you a small taste of that.
- Being part of a team – during a shift, everyone has a role and is a small cog in a very well-oiled machine. As soon as you arrive, you put your apron on and get stuck in. Jobs are divvied up and skills are shared.
- Developing cooking skills – I love cooking and baking at home, but it is very different – a midweek pasta dish for two is a whole different kettle of fish to making a pudding for 50 people, which has to be served at 4:30 on the dot. It’s not exactly Masterchef, but it certainly feels like it when your pudding isn’t ready and you have 50 hungry people waiting for your sponge cake to come out of the oven. It’s a brilliant challenge and you get a massive sense of achievement after.
- It’s challenging – new issues arise during every shift and you always have to think on your feet.
- It puts everything into perspective.
- It’s incredibly satisfying – preparing vegetables, working quickly to make a hot meal, serving it up, dishing out, clearing plates, doing the washing up and putting it all away – it’s a good job well done.
- Making tea – it’s a nice feeling to make a cup of tea for someone that really really needs one.
- It keeps you on your toes – a shift at Emmanuel House is never boring.
- Working with Denis and his team – if you’ve never heard Denis and the team talking about what Emmanuel House does and means to the community, I’d highly recommend it. It’s really inspiring and their hard work makes you want to give as much time as you can in order help them support the city’s most vulnerable people.
- Being involved in brilliant events – last year’s highlight was the Belters Choir at Nottingham Cathedral. We served mince pies, samosas, mulled wine and then we got to listen to carols in the cathedral.
What were your first impressions of the service? And the people in need of the service?
I was surprised by all of the different kinds of people that use Emmanuel House’s services. I had wrongly presumed that it would mainly be attended by rough sleepers. But Emmanuel House isn’t just for homelessness – there is a huge range of different people with differing needs.
Everyone is also really, really friendly and they were immediately welcoming and encouraged us to crack on.
What are some of the challenges faced when volunteering in Nottingham?
The Night Shelter is a real eye opener. It’s difficult to see people in such vulnerable positions and the reality of what it means not to have anywhere permanent to live. We do whatever we can to provide service users with a meal, but sometimes resources are limited.
It’s often difficult to know how many people are going to be eating at Emmanuel House, which means portions are hard to plan. Sometimes food runs out and we have to quickly cook an alternative for the people at the end of the queue. But the staff are always on hand to ensure we are fair and can divide the resources between everyone.
A few things I have learnt from volunteering at Emmanuel House:
With the help of Emmanuel House’s incredible chefs I have…
- Learnt to make 50 perfect Yorkshire puddings.
- Perfected the art of a cheese toastie.
- Baked an industrial-size sponge cake.
- Made a meal out of leftovers – on a Saturday, Emmanuel House serves lunch for just 50p. Saturdays are volunteer-led, so we have a look in the pantry and the fridge and see what we can make – soup, salads, sandwiches.
- Learnt to always reserve judgement.
My tips for volunteering at Emmanuel House:
- If you can, try and help out with the events that the fundraising team organises. Refreshments always need to be served and it’s helpful to be on hand to talk to visiting members of the public about Emmanuel House’s services.
- If you’re free in the evenings and you have time, volunteer at the Night Shelter as well – the shifts are incredibly similar to Emmanuel House’s kitchen shifts.
- Have your say – if you think something can work in a more efficient way, there’s a forum for us to be able to share our opinions.
- Tell your friends, family and colleagues about Emmanuel House and its services – as one of Nottingham’s smaller, independent charities, it’s hard to get the word out about the incredible work that it does. Being slightly off the beaten track, it often gets missed out of Hockley’s famous charity shop circuit.
- If your workplace is looking for charities to get involved with, suggest Emmanuel House. At my office we organised a big clothes swap day and we donated everything that was left over to Emmanuel House. Now a lot of my colleagues have got Emmanuel House in the front of their mind and often drop off clothes, bric-a-brac and store cupboard items at my desk for me to take over at the weekend.
- Ask questions – find out how the service works and what everyone does.
- Be accommodating – if someone wants a mocha, add a spoonful of hot chocolate to their coffee. If someone has a quirky request, do what you can to make it for them.
What would you say to anyone who is thinking of volunteering for EH?
- Think about how much time you can commit – whether it’s one shift a month, or every Wednesday morning it will always be valued.
- Have a trial shift and see if you like it.