The Glebe Centre, Walsall is an incredible provision for the homeless community and supports people with issues around substance misuse, homelessness, mental health and unemployment. It is run by Jane and a tireless team of volunteers. We caught up with Karen, one of the Glebe’s amazing volunteers!
Why do you volunteer here?
I’ve been volunteering at YMCA BC for 5 years – I started off at Hi’s N Lows at St Pauls Church in Walsall. The woman that ran the charity was an old school friend. I asked if she had any volunteering opportunities and she threw me in the kitchen there! I was trained to do the needle exchange, I cooked hot meals, helped people with benefits forms, learned how to help them with their issues.
I honestly love it. Their lives are so chaotic and the system is so stupid – a fully functioning person struggles to understand the system, so how are people whose lives are so chaotic and messy supposed to manage?
I don’t think that people really understand the level of other people’s issues. There are people who think “Well it’s their own fault for turning to drugs or alcohol” but you can’t know what options that person had in the first place, what led them down this path. The night shelters that we run – people think of night shelters and think of beds and blankets, but in reality, the service users sleep on the floor, and they get a blanket if there are enough. It’s nobody’s first choice on where they want to be in their life. It’s an eye opener.
What’s the best thing about volunteering at the Glebe?
Building up a relationship with the service users, and, after 5 years of doing this, seeing the positives. This week a girl came in who has been in and out of prison, a heroin user, and she’s now really settled, even off her methadone. She’s doing really well and looks so healthy – it’s those moments, those successes that make it all worthwhile.
Sometimes it can be frustrating, trying to help someone who simply can’t get there – it’s such a big mountain in front of them and taking that first step is so hard, especially when there are people half way up the mountain trying to push them down or blocking their way.
How has volunteering changed you?
I’ve a lot more patience – you have to learn to let things go over your head and not take them personally, otherwise the job would turn you to jelly. I think I’m a strong person – I’m a single mum to 3 kids – but you have to be so strong to be here week after week.
What’s the hardest thing about being here?
Seeing how low people can get – and the ones that don’t make it.
If you could change anything about the Glebe, what would it be?
In an ideal world I’d have the night shelter open every night (without it running at a loss). It would also be nice if there was someone from housing here more regularly or even to be trained in the housing side of things – there’s so little housing around Walsall, and so many people won’t leave the area. I wish I could help.
Why should others volunteer?
Everyone has their own reasons for volunteering – maybe because they’ve been in the situation themselves, so they know what it’s like, or maybe because they can just see how lucky they are. Personally I think everyone should volunteer at some point, because you’re not getting anything out of it, and it does make you a different person, to give something without getting something in return.