My name is Alice and I have been volunteering for Doorway for just over one year now. It’s been an absolute privilege to be involved – this piece explains a little bit about me and my motivations for wanting to get involved.
I grew up in Chippenham having moved with my family to the town at the age of five. I left when I went to university, returning about three years ago after a number of years of working in different places. I got to know about Doorway through the local paper and knew it was something I wanted to support when I was able. Donating money is vital but to be able to give your time and help directly is equally as important and I’m lucky that I can arrange my work life to give me the time to support the charity one afternoon a week.
I have a number of motivations which led me to Doorway. Firstly, it was the opportunity to be able to do something meaningful in my home town. As much as I would love to support all charities, when resources are limited, you have to start with the those that you feel have the greatest need – the homeless and vulnerably housed of the local area. These are individuals often at the bottom of society, in desperate need of a helping hand – one that Doorway offers. Some of those people are individuals I went to school and grew up with, people with whom I share a journey and a history. It brings a sense of realism way beyond simply supporting say Shelter or Crisis through a monthly donation. Charity really does start at home, in your own neighbourhood and community.
Another motivation that led me to Doorway is my work life. I am a director of a new company looking at alternative ways of helping people get onto the housing ladder and Doorway is giving me the chance to better understand some of the factors that lead to homelessness and the issues that surround social housing provision. I’ve been surprised by the number of rough sleepers in Chippenham and the inadequacies of the ‘system’. I’m certainly not going to solve all the problems but gaining a better understanding helps informs my work and will hopefully drive some change at a strategic level.
Joining Doorway was a little daunting at first. I didn’t know how sessions worked and I really felt like I was stepping into the unknown. I didn’t know who the guests were or how they would react but you get to know people over time and they get to know you. I’ve had some truly brilliant and enlightening conversations. I’ve also had some heart-breaking ones. We don’t judge, assume or criticise but provide an environment where people can just be themselves.
During a drop-in session, I help out pretty much where ever I’m needed. That might be at the coffee table or on the front desk to sign people in. Sometimes I help people with their clothing needs or laundry. The simple act of being able to wash, dry, fold and return someone’s clothes is a powerful one. It goes way beyond what is a chore at home. It gives someone dignity and confidence – the opportunity to look their best despite their situation.
Doorway attracts a whole raft of different types of people, be those guests, staff or volunteers. Having the opportunity to meet such a diverse group of people has been a real pleasure and not something that would have occurred in other aspects of my life. The menacing looking homeless man on the street isn’t so menacing when you have a name to put to the face, when you have sat down over a meal and heard their story. Doorway teaches you tolerance and understanding in a world where a lot of negative assumptions are made about the homeless and vulnerable. It’s a place full of care, attention, love and warmth. Sometimes noisy and unpredictable but always welcoming.
The staff, volunteers and guests of Doorway touch my heart in so many ways – it is a true privilege to be involved.