Tag Archives: Caring in Bristol

Hopping out of a plane for the homeless at Skydive Swansea.

Caring in Bristol is a charitable company which delivers and develops vital support to homeless and vulnerable people all year round and I’ve previously written about my volunteering experience at the Caring at Christmas homelessness shelter as well as the Bristol Night Stop project which provides support for young people who are suddenly homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Raising funds is vital in order to continue the work of the charity. When a tandem sky dive with Skydive Swansea was suggested as the next team Caring in Bristol sponsored event I was convinced it was a big enough challenge to encourage people to donate to a worthy cause but was pretty anxious about undertaking what was personally a huge challenge. Having always been afraid of heights, as the days edged closer to the big event I became increasingly nervous and had a few sleepless nights thinking about my first tandem skydive. The nerves were shared by the rest of the Caring in Bristol skydive team (Emma, Ed, Phil, Julia and Lizzy) and there were plenty of scared yet excited faces when we assembled at the Skydive Swansea base.

Our fears were put to rest on meeting the friendly and experienced crew and we were soon kitted out in brightly coloured jumpsuits and taken through a safety briefing. Whilst carrying an element of risk, skydiving is a safe regulated sport. Despite this it still felt reassuring to know that we would be attached by four points to an experienced instructor at all times. The parachute also had a remote sensor that would open automatically if it hadn’t been deployed once we dropped to below a certain altitude. Skydiving is a weather dependent sport and wind speeds and climate were monitored regularly to ensure the conditions were safe to jump.

The briefing explained the process of a tandem dive and helped to make sure we followed the correct procedures for a safe flight/landing. After practicing a few simple skydive moves we were ready to fly.

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My heart was in my mouth as we all got into the plane. The ascent to 12,000 feet took 15 minutes but seemed longer as the features of the ground below became smaller until eventually we were in the clouds. In an instant the shutter door of the plane was rolled up and I could hear the roar of the 120mph wind and see the distant ground. It was jump time!

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One of the best moments of the skydive was the few split seconds before leaving the plane. Teetering on the edge and then dropping into the vast expanse of air below was a surreal, thrilling and powerful experience. In free fall the wind felt fierce with the sensation of flying rather than falling. The adrenalin was immense and I think I forgot to breathe in all the excitement. Despite my nervousness, at no point during the jump did I feel unsafe and I was always reassured by my instructor Ricky that everything was going to be absolutely fine.

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Once the canopy opened we drifted peacefully to earth with a few swirly spirally moves along the way. I even got to steer the parachute! The views of the stunning Gower coastline were phenomenal and we were lucky enough to be blessed with sunshine and clear skies. Before I knew it we had safely landed back on solid earth and I was walking off of the airfield  contemplating life in the clouds.

I also wanted to keep in mind the reason we decided to take on the challenge. Before becoming a recreational sport, parachuting and skydiving were first developed by the military. Limited evidence exists, but some research suggests that ex-service personnel make up around 10% of the homeless population who can struggle with civilian life due to mental health problems, alcohol addiction, family breakdown or a lack of adequate support after leaving the services. Whilst I had the fantastic opportunity to sky dive I felt a need to acknowledge those people who were out there on the streets and had perhaps experienced skydiving and parachuting in a very different way.

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Perhaps the greatest thing I learnt from my skydiving experience was the art of possibility. Human flight has been imagined, explored, designed and pursued for generations. Conceivably then, what no better example than a playground in the sky to demonstrate the human ability to make the seemingly impossible, possible.

It’s unclear what the next fundraising adventure will be for team Caring in Bristol but it will be hard to top our skydiving experience. Together we confronted our fears, took on the challenge and raised over £2000 to help homeless and vulnerable people in Bristol. I would like to thank everyone who sponsored me and enabled me to take part and to everyone at Skydive Swansea as well as the other Caring in Bristol skydivers for such a fantastic day.

Skydiving was an amazing experience one which I would highly recommend. I’ve since caught myself looking up at the sky, remembering what it felt like to be a part of it. I don’t think the sky will ever look quite the same again.

You can still donate to the team Caring in Bristol ‘hop out of a plane for the homeless’ campaign via my Just Giving web page .

Photo credits: Tanya Quigley at Skydive Swansea.

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Volunteering with Caring at Christmas 3: Supervisory responsibility and learning more about homelessness

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Caring at Christmas is a homeless shelter in Bristol, which provides people with warmth and safe accommodation over the Christmas period. My first experience of volunteering in 2011 left me let’s say, philosophical, about homelessness in the city and my contribution towards relieving it. After returning for a second time in 2012 I felt more optimistic. So what did my third year volunteering at the project yield? – an opportunity for growth. This year as well as being a general volunteer and gaining experience in different areas, I also undertook the responsibility of being a supervisor. It was an on-the job learning experience and at times I definitely felt my heart in my mouth. Despite this I left feeling like I had made a valuable contribution. So to keep up with tradition, here are a few thoughts on my third Caring at Christmas experience and why I value it so highly.

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Caring at Christmas

Providing approximately 50 beds for homeless people as well as around 300 hot meals a day for residents and other guests the shelter operates over the peak Christmas period providing for Bristol’s homeless as other support services are reduced for the Christmas holidays. In many cases this is the only time a guest will have access to the same bed for 7 consecutive nights and are guaranteed a safe place and a hot meal for this length of time (not to mention the all important Christmas Dinner!). In addition, snacks, cakes hot drinks and entertainment and services are provided such as arts and creative activities, first aid, live music, companionship, counseling, showers and laundry service, hairdressing, footcare and recreational opportunities such as DVDs, pool, table football, ping pong, board games and jigsaw puzzles as well as the provision of clothes, toiletries, sleeping bags, blankets and rucksacks. For the rest of the year the shelter is operated by the charity The Julian Trust who provide around 90 hot meals and 18 beds a night for 5 nights a week. Caring at Christmas also research and produce the survival handbook an annually printed resource and support services guide for the homeless or those at risk of homelessness in Bristol. Whilst having a core component of staff, approximately 700 volunteers support the charitable project and it’s funded by donations and contributions from a wide variety of sources including individuals, groups, schools, communities, companies and businesses. For me this year was slightly different as in addition to companionship and spending time with guests, I also gained experience and an insight into working the on staff door/donations, the kitchen, admin and working the night shift.

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Volunteering and on being a supervisor

Whilst I have previously been a general volunteer, to be in a position of responsibility and an identified person people sought in an emergency was a daunting prospect. There were always numerous volunteers on shift but the nature of the environment can occasionally be dynamic and this was in the forefront of my mind when I first applied. A supervisor assists the lead supervisor in maintaining the smooth running and safety of guests and volunteers at the shelter. This can be anything from answering queries, dealing with resource issues to assisting with first aid incidents, fire evacuation and managing conflict.

Whilst professionally, I’ve previously been responsible for managing small projects, assisting directly in an operational capacity and being responsible for people, particularly those who could be described as vulnerable (or in a vulnerable condition) was a new situation for me. The shelter is an environment which demands that you be reactive and whilst there are regular tasks to be performed on every shift, it can also be difficult to predict what sort of things will happen each time. For the most part, the only way to learn is to turn up each day and gain the experience. I was fortunate enough to be in a supervisory team of three serving alongside experienced staff so I was never made to feel overwhelmed with the responsibility and always felt supported. I also took part in the St John’s ambulance first aid course that was offered and undertook the shelter’s own supervisory training session. During my time volunteering I had to draw on things I learnt during both these sessions, but even so, it’s hard to be fully prepared for the first time someone faints on you!

It’s true to say it seemed there was less time to become absorbed in the individual stories and lives of the guests, less time for the fun or creative activities I’d become used to (although I did manage to squeeze in a few turns at monopoly and some clowning around at the ping pong table). Instead I began to gain an insight into what it takes to run a project, learn more about the experiences and expectations of the volunteers and begin to understand the resources, processes and vast numbers of people needed to make it all possible. Once again I was amazed at the generosity of so many donating time, abilities, money and resources to Caring at Christmas. It seemed that no matter whatever skills people had there was a way they could contribute, from local groups knitting clothes, to businesses and community organisations donating fresh produce, to individuals and groups contributing their annual secret santa presents or children sacrificing their months pocket money.

I also got the opportunity to witness how Caring at Christmas has grown and developed over the past few years and how it continues to evolve. The need to be reactive is necessary not just operationally (working and managing more efficiently) but also organisationally (maintaining sustainability) as particularly so in times of austerity when the risk to charities which rely on donations can be a significant one. Additionally harder times will often mean there are even more people who rely on those organisations which meet a social need or provide a social service. The issues of homelessness are not unique to our time, however, the ways in which these can be addressed are always developing. One of the best things about working in an environment with volunteers is that people participate to honour a cause they believe in, help others or develop specific skills and its exactly that motivation and passion which forges an environment where innovation can happen.

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Homelessness in Bristol – improving services and understanding need

As ever the experience of Caring at Christmas perhaps illustrated both the best and worst of the human spirit. The shelter provides a glimpse into the existence of homeless people in Bristol, but after 3 years of volunteering I realise that beyond the immediate provision of food and shelter there is a lot more to understand about the complex nature of homelessness and the associated social problems that can be both a cause or a consequence, as well as the varied pathways and means to solutions (presuming that a solution is desired at all as this is not always the case for each person).

Walking home from my shifts at Christmas, I discovered that there were others on the streets that chose not to stay or eat at the shelter, and I wondered why this was and how many others or ‘hidden homeless’ there were out there. Whilst the Christmas spirit may be a motivator for many people in making a contribution to the shelter and there is a pragmatic need for additional support services over the Christmas period, the reality is for many of the guests is that homelessness persists all year round.   So it follows that so does the need for support and services as well as the funds and volunteers to make them happen.

Hello 2015! From Caring at Christmas to Caring in Bristol

The face to face shelter environment can be an intense one and for me its always necessary to take a few days after the experience to reflect on how things went, the stories I heard, the decisions I made and what I could have improved upon. My supervisory experience amounted to just two shifts but it was enough to install within me the significance of the responsibility, which is the main thing I will take with me from this year. No matter what training you receive in many ways to succeed in a dynamic operational environment there is simply no other way to learn other than working as a team, relying on others to guide you and doing the best you can. Whilst the Caring at Christmas shelter has now closed, the good news is that this year, the journey doesn’t end on January 1st.  As Caring in Bristol (the shelter’s parent company) develops, there are further opportunities to get involved throughout the year, whether this is through fund and awareness raising, taking part in sponsored events, developing projects, skills and knowledge or gaining practical experience, all whilst working with a committed team and volunteers dedicated to making a positive difference and responding to homelessness as a community issue.

I’ll be continuing the journey by, amongst other things, jumping out of a plane.

Challenge on.

Caring at Christmas is a project by Caring in Bristol, a charitable company which delivers and develops vital support to homeless and vulnerable people all year round through effective, volunteer driven projects. Visit the Caring in Bristol website for more information and to find out how you can contribute.