There is a distinct chill in the air this morning (Who am I kidding – it’s literally freezing and I woke up to a lightly dusted snow garden) and it has become quite apparent that the festive season is rapidly approaching. The shops are beginning to be all but completely taken over with vibrant red Christmas delights and the adverts are plastered all over our television screens and billboards. I’m not going to lie I simply adore Christmas. I am such a summer girl, but Christmas makes winter just that bit more bearable. The dark evenings are alive with sparkling light displays and almost everyone is in a good mood. I love planning activities such as ice skating, indulgent dinners (this one is not limited to Christmas!) and choosing little gifts I think people will love. I embrace decorating our home and blasting out the Christmas tunes.
There are some things that appear to have become a tradition in the Hargest-Kemp household:
- We always put our tree up on December 1st and take it down on January 1st.
- We always design our own Christmas cards and I start dishing them out on the first of December.
- I always have a Hotel Chocolat advent calendar
- I always dress poor Holly in some festive attire.
Somewhere inside this materialistic, self indulgent festive period is a tradition that crept in four years ago.
Volunteering at Crisis for Christmas.
Crisis is a charity that focuses on helping the homeless get back on their feet and at Christmas they open shelters for guests to stay in for a whole week. A whole week of hot dinners, safe sleeping and showers. Things that most of us completely take for granted. However, Crisis is actually much more than that. They are just the basics. Crisis also helps people reignite their lives. They have hairdressers, dentists, doctors, performers and IT helpers all coming together to make the Christmas week at Crisis life changing. They help people find a home, a job and a fresh start and it really is something special.
I first decided to get involved with Crisis when we purchased our first home. I had a funny couple of months where I had been unwell in hospital and I just felt so grateful to be alive, surrounded by such loving and supporting family and able to own our home at such a young age. My gratitude highlighted the fact that a lot of people aren’t that lucky and I wanted to do something to help. Christmas was approaching and I wanted to help the people who really needed it. I donate to charity regularly and I used to volunteer at a charity shop for Cancer Research, but I wanted to do something hands on and that something presented itself as Crisis. I had a look online and found out about the charity and what they do, how volunteering works and what I would need to do. I then signed myself up for a couple of shifts in South London and before I knew it I was chatting to guests and handing out bedding. I was very nervous about going because I didn’t know what to expect and I was going on my own. I needn’t have worried though as everyone is super friendly and high spirited (not too high spirited though – that would be annoying!). I really enjoyed my first shifts. It was so lovely meeting the guests and hearing their stories, not to mention how Crisis was helping them. What some of these people are going through is absolutely horrendous and just having somewhere warm and safe to stay means so, so much. Banish all thoughts of soup kitchens – the centres are alive with people taking part in craft activities, karaoke, football tournaments and just having a good time.
From the moment I left my last shift, which was the day the centre closed, I knew I would be back the next year. When the shifts became available for the following Christmas I quickly signed up and so did a friend of mine, Sarah. I was so excited that she would be joining me and helping out. The centres need a huge amount of volunteers to keep them up and running, so every body really counts.
The following year, Sarah and I returned only this time my Mum and brother also volunteered. I started to recognise volunteers from previous years and it just felt so natural to be there.
This year, we are all planning on volunteering again (already signed up!), and my friends Alex and Nick are coming along to provide entertainment for the guests. They are both talented musicians and I know that everybody will enjoy listening to their festive cheer. I’m so excited for them to be involved.
I always volunteer on Christmas Eve and I honestly can’t imagine a Christmas Eve at home now. For many people Christmas is about spending time with people that they love, this is true for me too, but I also like to spend Christmas with people spreading love. We can become so terribly absorbed with modern day life, the latest trends, the largest homes and incredible experiences, but it’s important to sit back and just be. Just take a moment to appreciate what you have got rather than lusting after what you think you need. Appreciate that you are in a position where you don’t need to worry about where you will sleep tonight or if you will spend your birthday alone. Just enjoy the here and now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy volunteering and whilst the centres are transformed from donated offices, colleges and youth centres, it has to be made to happen. It’s hard work and exhausting, but worth every second. So on Christmas Eve this year, I will be continuing my own tradition of slipping on my volunteering badge and traipsing to a location in London to provide a little bit of festive cheer to someone who needs it. I can’t wait!