ELL Guide to Christmas: How to volunteer and help out in your local community over the festive period

Homelessness. Pic: Jessica Mulley

Homelessness. Pic: Jessica Mulley

It’s the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse. But for many living in Eastlondonlines boroughs, “visions of sugar-plums” are ousted by the prospect of another night on the streets or the memories of absent family.

Preoccupied with thoughts of Christmas cheer, it may be easy to forget that not everyone will be participating in the festivities. But there are countless ways you can extend a helping hand to those who need it most this season and ELL is here to explain how.


Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets Food Bank

Since its launch in the winter of 2010 the Tower Hamlets Food Bank has fed more than 3,500 people in need.  In an area in which 72 per cent of residents live under the poverty line, the THFB centres have become vital community resources. The food bank works by providing emergency food donations and directing those in crisis to further help and support.

However the organisation has said: “We could never function as an organisation without the help of our dedicated team of volunteers.”

You can give the gift of time by helping with collections, sorting through donations or helping at one of the several distribution centres across the borough. But if you’re pressed for time this Christmas a financial gift or food donation would also be appreciated.



To get involved email volunteers@towerhamletsfoodbank.org.uk or call 020 3069 9877.



Winter Angels

Lewisham is on the lookout for “Winter Angels” who can provide care and companionship to the elderly this Christmas.  “Angels” will carry out simple tasks for their elderly friends, from collecting prescriptions and returning library books, to spending time at their home and accompanying them on social outings. The initiative aims to prevent escalated winter hospital admissions resulting from unnecessary accidents and mitigate the isolation older people may experience during the festive season. To find out more and register your interest, contact Volunteers Centre Lewisham’s Kay Kelleher on 020 8613 7113 or at kay@volunteercentrelewisham.org.uk.

Lewisham Mencap

If you’re an outgoing individual who would like to spread some cheer during the Christmas period and beyond, why not become a “befriender” for Lewisham Mencap. As its name suggests, the role involves befriending a person with learning difficulties and taking part in a range of social activities. The organisation is particularly looking for people with availability on Monday evenings and will prioritise applicants who wish to gain experience in the social work and care sector. To register your interest click here.



Hackney Winter Night Shelter

Hackney’s annual Winter Night Shelter, which launched more than 20 years ago, opened its doors on November 3 and will remain open until April of next year. The pop-up shelter runs from a different local church each night of the week and provides people in need with the comfort of a warm bed and a hot meal. Each year the shelter works with more than 80 guests and following this support workers help clients find more permanent accommodation.

A spokesperson said: “Every year we need new volunteers. This year only overnight or first thing in the morning [shifts] are now left.”

Volunteers have versatile roles from preparing the venue and helping to cook, to playing scrabble and offering guests some friendly conversation. Training is provided in understanding homelessness, drug and alcohol problems, first aid and dealing with potential aggressive behavior – which the centre says is a rarity. You can help out as often or as little as you wish. To get involved email volunteer@hwns.org.uk and like their Facebook page for important updates.


Students across London will be packing their bags this week ready for a Christmas break filled with family and fun. But some international students, whose families remain overseas, face a month of loneliness as university campuses close down and friends they’ve made during term-time head home for the festive season. HOST limits the amount of Christmases spent in empty dormitories by arranging for international students to spend the days between Christmas Eve and December 27 with local families.

If you would like to open your home to an international student this Christmas email hosts@hostuk.org or call 020 7739 6292.



Croydon Nightwatch

Croydon Nightwatch has been caring for homeless people since 1976 and their job becomes even more fundamental during the cold winter months. Differing from shelters, CN takes its services onto the streets themselves. Trained volunteers meet in Queen’s Gardens in central Croydon before embarking on their mission to help the homeless. The volunteers befriend rough sleepers, bring them emergency provisions, aid them into vocations and signpost them to further services.

However the organisation warns: “We receive many calls from people who want to volunteer at Christmas and so are often over-subscribed at this time. It may help to know we would not have people out for the first and only time at Christmas.  A volunteer will have had to learn the ropes on an earlier night before we would rely on them to come out on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve.”

So if you have your heart set on helping out this Christmas, contact CN soon to put in your first shift before the core holiday dates. To get involved contact the volunteer coordinator at volunteer@croydonnightwatch.org.uk or 07403 456756.

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