photo: volunteers preparing food for our dinner service. 

 1 June 2021

Volunteers' Week is taking place this year on 1-7 June to recognise the contribution millions of people make across the UK through volunteering. To mark the start of the week, volunteering officer Corin, who joined Glass Door in July 2020 to coordinate and support our volunteers, reflects on her first few months in post in a year full of uncertainty and change. 


By Corin Heney 

volunteering officer Corin HeneyI wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I joined Glass Door last July in the new role of Volunteering Officer. Working from home during a global pandemic made it harder to feel connected to the charity’s frontline work, and there were still so many question marks around what Glass Door’s winter services would look like. I couldn’t help wonder how our volunteers would respond to the significant changes that were inevitable due to COVID-19.

Responding to change 

The COVID-19 pandemic meant we had to re-think services and adapt so that we could safely keep our doors open. In a usual year, we would have over 1,600 volunteers helping us run our life-saving services. This past year, with COVID restrictions in place, we had to vastly reduce our volunteer team. For our shelter volunteers (this year becoming dinner service volunteers), this meant running a very different service to the usual night shelters.

I needn’t have worried. 470 committed individuals stepped forward to cook, welcome guests, deliver donations, help out in the office and newly opened hostels, translate guest feedback and more. Glass Door volunteers were ready and willing to do whatever was needed to make sure we could continue supporting those experiencing homelessness in London during the coldest months and worsening pandemic.

Our volunteers rolled up their sleeves and said, ‘we are here, how can we help?’

A willingness to be flexible and adapt was reflected in a recent volunteer survey. One volunteer said:

It’s not about me and the smallest things I contribute, it’s about whether they are useful to you in delivering for people at their point of need.

Rising to the challenge

Volunteer selflessness has not gone unnoticed, but it’s undeniable the differences of this winter have been felt. When asked what motivates our volunteers to give up their time, the most common answers were: wanting to help people affected by homelessness (91%), to give something back (63%), to connect to my community (39%), and enacting my faith (39%), with only few selecting the social aspect of volunteering (respondents could select more than one response).

Yet a common theme emerged in the survey’s comments field: volunteers this year really missed the camaraderie of volunteering, cooking together as a team, and connecting with guests.

The decreased social element and human connection has been felt and very much missed. But our volunteers were still ready to give up their time to support our guests at our essential services.

This commitment came into play when volunteers coped with breaking ovens and power cuts mid-way through meal preparation. Volunteer coordinators rose to the challenge of managing teams while themselves sometimes shielding. And teams have figured out how to create guest care packages and share food resources remotely. For example, our Richmond volunteer teams regularly communicated to distribute donated steaks, puddings, pies, and even sea bass fillets between their different teams.

We are so lucky that our volunteer network has been forthcoming in asking what else can we do?  

We would be lost without our office volunteers, hostel volunteers, donations drivers, remote translators, and our trustees and expert advisors who have also continued to give their time and skills.

After working closely with our fantastic volunteers these past months, I am confident they will continue to be there for our guests no matter what the future holds.

With this assurance, we’re able to explore some exciting new possibilities for how volunteers can continue to be key in tackling homelessness in London. And hopefully, we’ll also see more of the social aspect missed by all. I’m very much looking forward to all of it.


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