Category Archives: Volunteer stories

meet a volunteer Liv

We depend on our wonderful volunteers to deliver a holistic wrap around service to our guests. Our volunteers enable our staff to concentrate on case work and helping our guests move on and up and achieve great outcomes.

I’ve been volunteering here for 6-7 years now. I come most Mondays for a few hours and it’s been an easy way to feel like I’m starting the week on a good note and I find it fits easily into my regular routine.  

Recently I went on a six-month sabbatical and it was lovely to come back to the shelter, I feel like part of the family here.

I do a mix of things when I’m at the shelter. Sitting on the desk and greeting guests when they come in, washing and folding laundry – I can be a decent souz-chef or get on the washing up. A couple of times a year, I’ve organised creative evenings with my work colleagues. We’ve done screen-printing, painting Christmas baubles or still-life drawing.  It’s not for everybody but we’ll normally get a few really enthusiastic people and some others that are surprised how much they enjoy it.  I also love games so I’ve been taught new card games by the guests here and lost at chess too many times. 

A lot of people are tired after work and happy to watch TV but I like to chat with a few guests each evening and learn about their hobbies and interests. There are so many interesting people at the shelter with different passions and backgrounds, I’ve learnt a lot! 

Meet a volunteer: Franck

photo (2)I first became interested in volunteering at Shelter from the Storm after a friend reminded me that anyone can help to make a difference in their community. And at the shelter, I believe I’m doing just that!

Since volunteering here I have encountered an extremely loving and supportive community of volunteers all working to help out the guests. I’m also impressed by the support that the guests show one another; there is a real feeling of family!

And although the shelter keeps the guests safe I think everyone knows what the real solution is: building more social housing!

As a trainee lawyer, I’ve been interested to hear about the shelter’s in house legal clinics. They sound like an innovative way of helping the guests receive sound legal advice and am hoping to use my skills to help out wherever possible.

Meet a Volunteer: Richard


I’m a cook and I’d been looking for somewhere to volunteer when I read AA Gill’s article about the shelter.  It was a couple of years ago and I was unemployed at the time but I found volunteering put a bit of structure back in my life.  We have great fun in the kitchen cooking anything from fish fingers to a proper curry with all the trimmings.  It’s a bit like a family, the same team meets up every week and we all pull together to make something really great for our guests.

Meet a Volunteer: Thomas


It was when the shelter was in Essex Road. I wanted to pay back a bit what homeless shelters had done for me. I worked for the railways for 18 years but in 2007 I became homeless. I had a lot of problems with money; I was sofa surfing, spent a couple of weeks sleeping in the park and eventually lost my job. I nearly reached rock bottom but I got a place in a winter night shelter. I got advice from the Manna Society in Southwark and they helped me get a place of my own. Once I was settled I started doing Construction courses and getting better-paid work in the industry. This year I got a great job at Euston, back on the Railways!

I like the atmosphere at SFTS, I can use my practical skills to help and the other volunteers are great. I’ve been in the same situation as the guests and I can understand what they’re going through. Oh! And we always have a laugh!

Meet a volunteer: Duncan

DuncanDuncan, 65, is semi-retired and signed up to volunteer at the shelter two years ago. He loves cooking and wanted to use the skills he developed in hotel and property management to help others. “Being in the kitchen is a hobby of mine and so it is great to be making meals here at the shelter each week. I I feel a sense of satisfaction when we put together a big meal for all the guests”, he says. “As I am no longer working I have a lot more spare time and I think it is important to help people who are not as fortunate as I am in life”. Duncan has a particular soft spot for Mediterranean food. He enjoys making pasta dishes or fish with roasted vegetables for the guests, although he is not so fond of doing the washing up!

Meet a volunteer: Kate

KateIt is with a mixture of sadness and happiness that we say goodbye to Friday evening stalwart Kate as she leaves to marry her childhood sweetheart Matthew in New Zealand. She first started volunteering on Boxing Day 2012 after having been inspired by her colleague who regularly donated to Shelter From The Storm. “I called Sheila and asked ‘do you need help?’ and she said ‘Yes, how about today?’. I tried several evenings before finding my spiritual home on Friday nights with the wonderful Dan and Rachel.” The highlight of her time at the shelter was becoming a shiftleader but it was always the people – the guests and the team – that kept her returning each week. “The Friday shift is the highlight of my week,” she said. “And I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” Kate is planning to return to the shelter in the Autumn.

She is extremely excited about her marriage and the couple are planning a three-month honeymoon around Europe in a 27 year old campervan. However, Kate has offered to fly back every Friday evening if someone is willing to foot the bill.

Meet a volunteer: Matt

MattMatt is coming up to his one year anniversary as an SFTS volunteer. He read about us last Xmas and just fancied doing something to help. He was amazed to find a charity that was almost completely run by volunteers and felt his contribution would make more sense and impact. The more he found out about the shelter, the more impressed he was with its transparency; all the donations were going directly into supporting the guests.

Matt feels that homelessness is misunderstood and people have quite wrong perceptions about the homeless: often they’re no different from you or me but have just suffered a bit of bad luck which then becomes a downward spiral of despair.

He really looks forward to his Tuesday shift, his day job is in the world of expensive UK property and volunteering not only puts his work into perspective, it puts everything into perspective and gives him a window into what’s important in life.

Oh, and he likes the fact that we call them guests, he thinks that sums SFTS up.

Meet a volunteer: Rosie

RosieI have been volunteering at shelter from the storm for nearly four years. As an animator, I began volunteering as a productive break from the desk and that old cliché of feeling like commercial work was bit soulless and wanting to help people!

From my first shift my preconceptions of homeless people were shattered. I’ve met guests from all kinds of backgrounds, with very different reasons for needing help. There is an assumption that all homeless people are addicts or alcoholics, removed from society, the reality is very different.
Working at the shelter never feels like a chore, I love being there, it’s such a warm, positive, place. As it’s small and independent the approach is always very personal and I’ve enjoyed working closely with guests to help them move on. It’s great when we successfully support someone into work and/or their own accommodation.

My time at the shelter has also had a really positive influence on my life. I’ve recently worked on a series of portrait projects with some of the guests, resulting in an exhibition (find out more here) to challenge people ideas on homelessness. The response that this work has received so far has given the push to take my amateur photography further and I am about to embark on an MA course and am taking on more photography work.

Meet a volunteer: Hazel

HazelWhatever Hazel was expecting when she first came to the Shelter From The Storm, it wasn’t what she found. “It has opened my eyes to so many things,” she says. “I have met all kinds of people there, with all kinds of backgrounds. It has shown me a side of homelessness you don’t ordinarily see.” She loves talking to the guests, and was shocked to learn how just hard life had been for the some of them. “I have met some people who were sleeping rough when they were heavily pregnant, or had broken backs.”

It has helped her too. Hazel is 34, and says she is at “a bit of a crossroads”. She spent ten years working as a shoe designer for Vivienne Westwood, but recently quit. She had never volunteered before, but she saw an advert online and thought she would give it a go. Now she is also working a yoga teacher. “I feel like I can help people that way. Talking to the guests at Shelter has made me realise that yoga can help everybody.” The volunteering work, she says, came at just the right time. “Because Shelter is such a positive place. Going there, it made me feel like anything is possible in life.”

Meet a volunteer: Rachel

photo 74As Rachel prepares to say goodbye to SFTS before returning to university, one guest’s story remains stuck in her mind:  “There was this Ugandan lady, let’s call her B;  she was in her sixties and had a heart condition. She finally chose to be repatriated – I guess she wanted to die in her home country – I helped raise funds to pay for her journey, and I went to the airport to see her off. I don’t know what happened in the end, but I’ve never forgotten her.

Londoner Rachel is full of energy, and her enthusiasm is infectious.  No wonder that after joining as a volunteer in early 2011, she soon took on more responsibility, becoming a shift leader and a key worker, which meant closer attention to individual cases.

Having completed a B.A. in theology, Rachel found that her first jobs – mainly in administration – involved hardly any direct personal contact. After arriving at the shelter in early 2011, however, she developed a passion for working with people.  “I learnt how to communicate, how to be patient, and I began to understand how people become homeless.

While she finds every case worrying, it’s the younger homeless that cause her particular concern:  “I know that I myself am just three steps away from where they are.” Her experience at the shelter helped Rachel find employment as a social worker, which in turn has led to her decision to leave London and study full-time for an M.A. in Social Work.

Rachel likes to think that, even though work at the shelter can feel like fire-fighting, it offers an honest approach with no false promises, and – above all – a safe environment:  “It’s a home.”   What will she miss?  “All the guests,” she says, “I got to know people well, and on their terms.