Spotlight on Volunteering

Spotlight on Crisis at Christmas


The Volunteering Service works with local and national volunteering providers to offer students activities to enrich their lives. We spoke with Mark Paul who volunteers at Crisis about the work they do and how student volunteers have contributed.


Crisis is the national charity for homeless people. Mark explains that Crisis ‘supports people out of homelessness for good. They do this through education, training and support with housing, employment and health. They offer one to one support, advice and courses for homeless people in 12 areas across Scotland, England and Wales.’


Crisis is also a pioneering research, examining ‘the causes and consequences of homelessness, and campaign for the changes needed to end it for everyone, for good.’ Crisis are currently producing a plan to end homelessness once and for all.


Crisis look for volunteers who are enthusiastic, non-judgemental, respectful, reliable and have a passion to end homelessness. Local volunteers in Edinburgh are involved in a wide range of activities: administration in the office, classroom assistants, policy and communication, housing practice fundraising and Crisis at Christmas. Student volunteers are currently ‘collecting feedback on the work of our progression team, supporting our members with CV writing and job hunting, and making decorations for the volunteer week ‘thank you' event. ‘


Mark volunteers at Crisis at Christmas in London, and it also runs in Edinburgh. Mark described the Christmas week programme that Crisis have run since 1972, homeless people are provided with ‘three meals a day, somewhere warm to sleep, hot showers, entertainment, haircuts, manicures and more. Most importantly though, they provide companionship, safety and respite from homelessness.’ 


Mark mentioned several statistics that speak to the vulnerability and suffering of homeless people, ‘the average age of death for a homeless person is just 47.  Rough sleepers are almost 17 times more likely to be the victim of violent assault. Homeless people are over nine times more likely to take their own life than a member of the general public.’


He encourages anyone to volunteer during this ‘I volunteer in London, but there are also shelters in Edinburgh and in most major cities across the UK. To sign up to volunteer, just visit Crisis’s website around October or later. Anyone can apply to be a general volunteer, which involves all the major challenges of running a homeless centre on a large scale: serving meals to guests, registering new guests, patrolling the building, cleaning, talking to guests, helping to run activities, washing dishes and cleaning toilets (awful, but necessary!).’


Student volunteers, like Mark, have contributed a lot to Crisis, ‘although some may only be with Crisis for a few months, they make a huge contribution.’  Crisis support a number of migrant homeless people, from all over the world and Mark adds, ‘it's always useful when volunteers, like international students, speak other languages.’


The work of student volunteers has a direct impact and allows Crisis ‘to increase class sizes and/or the time and attention given to individual learners, to increase our fundraising reach, and develop new income streams, to better evaluate our services, and to increase support for members seeking jobs.’ All of the volunteers help Crisis to support more people out of homelessness.


Recruiting and training volunteers in resource intensive but Mark says that ‘the quality of volunteers they get are worth the effort, even for a short time. Crisis couldn't provide the range and quality of services without fantastic volunteers!’


Find out more about Crisis