We are privileged to be living in a very affluent part of the country. This can mean that those people needing our help are often hidden and it is easy to ignore them and live our lives as if they weren’t here.
Just before Christmas I heard about the Winter Night Shelter and learned that we were to play host to it within our own team of churches this year. I attended the training session for volunteers and, with some trepidation initially, decided to become a regular volunteer on Friday evenings at the Epiphany church hall.
The routine was the same each week, but the other volunteers were varied, many from neighbouring churches (some unexpected familiar faces, as well). It was also wonderful to meet so many volunteers and work alongside them, to hear their stories and make new friends. The “floating shelter”, which provided beds every night over the coldest months had a total of 231 volunteers.
We set up the church each night then Merstham and Gatton churches parishioners arrived, bearing shepherd’s pies and other dishes of lovingly prepared food. A most generous contribution from the people who signed up to do this; thank you so much to everyone who cooked for us. The cakes were a heartening and much-appreciated “extra” as well.
Once the food was in the oven and teas and coffees were made, the minibus with the evening’s guests arrived. The numbers varied from a few to six or seven and we soon got to know the regular faces who returned, along with some new people. They stowed away their bags and chatted while the kitchen team produced the meal and we all sat down together.
After eating, we often played a game (such as Jenga or dominoes) before the guests settled down for the night. Once the night volunteers arrived, we said our farewells and went home, around 10.30. Another team would come to do the morning shift and everyone would be gone by 8.
At the training, we were reminded that people can become homeless at any age (75% were under 36) and for many reasons. We met many different people and were privileged to hear their stories and to be able to spend time with them. Many have been supported to find housing and work or are in the process.
I have found the experience of being involved in this both humbling and enormously fulfilling.