Robes Project

Volunteers from Holy Spirit

Several volunteers from Holy Spirit - Alan Mundy, Anna Long, Penny Brooke, Kathryn Newell, Sara Spillett, John Taylor, Biddy Taylor and Nicola Kingston - have been working at the Robes Project this winter.

Over the course of a year 3,500 people will sleep rough in London. This is almost half of the national total. Policies adopted by other local authorities mean that numbers south of the river have gone up a lot.

A key reason for starting the Robes Project was that there was no church-run emergency night shelter south of the Thames until Croydon. The Robes Project also makes it a priority to look at the longer-term housing, employment and support needs of our homeless guests.

Each night of the week a different church provides a hot meal, a bed and shelter to fifteen guests. A team of over 350 volunteers support this work – hosting, cooking, doing laundry and providing a listening ear. 19 churches currently host.

Here's what Penny Brooke - one of the volunteers - writes:

Some time back, there was an announcement in church about a plan to set up an overnight shelter for the homeless with volunteers from our and other local congregations over the winter months.  'Interesting' I thought 'but sad that these are as necessary as ever.'  I wanted to volunteer but felt scared inside.  This was not the sort of thing I'd ever done before.

By the time the call from Robes finally came in summer 2011, I could find no excuses  - time to get out of my comfort zone!  However, the first evening briefing session for volunteers at Ace of Clubs in St Alphonsus Road made me feel more confident.  For a start there were dozens of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds and it was great to feel part of such a well-supported community project. 

It was clear that we would be operating the shelter on the basis of several years' experience of other churches doing the same across South London, and with the help and oversight of Robes' professional staff.   Information and guidance was clear and to the point.  You could choose from a range of volunteer roles and give preferred dates.  With so many people involved, the time commitment was not heavy - our contribution was up to us. 

My first 'breakfast chef' experience was hot and hectic but very satisfying:  one guest said our full English was as good as the Ritz!  The early start meant that my volunteering was all done by 8.30am, the time I'm usually at my own breakfast table, so I lost no time - rather gained it. I've done several more breakfasts and some evening duties since, including cooking a supper dish and welcoming guests who are all pre-booked for their overnight stay.

There's a sense of goodwill and quiet endeavour, familiar faces and ones that come and go.  I heard some people's stories but was equally aware of what remained untold.  The cold weather came and went.  The rotas worked like clockwork.  Why had I ever had qualms, I wondered.   Wouldn't it be great if a shelter wasn't needed next year but that's hardly likely in these straightened times with homelessness rising relentlessly again. 

So when the call comes again for volunteers, please don't be scared like I was.