Tag: skill will

A surprisingly ‘souper’ evening

My nerves were getting the better of me, what had I let myself in for this time? Why do I do it when I already have so much going on? Turning into Leeds, I could see the city before me, it looked peaceful and calm, if a little dark, but the lights were twinkling in the distance making it look pretty and inviting.

That’s the last thing I was expecting from the latest experience I’d signed up to – inviting was certainly not what was on the agenda this evening! You see, as many of you know, when I’m offered the chance to experience something new, I always think it’s important that you take it.

As an active member of the Yorkshire Mafia, I find that there are many opportunities to meet new people and to offer advice and support. In particular, you may have heard of something called Skill Will; it is the organisation which matches private and public sector businesses with third sector charities.

The concept behind Skill Will is simple; if you’re a painter and decorator then offer that skill to a charity, if you’re a lawyer however then it would be more worthwhile to provide legal services and advice to these companies, who are not often in the position to pay for them.

So, back to my story, I had been given the opportunity as a member of the Yorkshire Mafia to try out something new – but not all experiences can be categorised as positive and I was starting to fear the worst on my journey into Leeds City Centre. I had put my name down for a soup kitchen with Simon on the Streets, the charity that provides outreach services for the most vulnerable – and often homeless people – in West Yorkshire.

In all honesty I have been wanting to get involved in something similar for a while and tried at Christmas but learnt that you can’t just show up – you have to be a registered volunteer and you need to go through a process – so this was my chance to see what it was all about.

I scurried up the road, feeling a little anxious and if I’m honest unsafe. I don’t walk around Leeds a lot on my own at night and for some reason the thought of infiltrating a world I know very little about really unnerved me.

I met with Helen, General Manager for the charity and Jenny the Treasurer, along with another first time volunteer Sam. We met for a quick coffee in McDonalds for a catch up before getting out and into the thick of it.

I was aware that I had lots of questions; how do people end up on the streets, how are they meant to learn what’s right from wrong, why can’t society play a better role in helping them, surely there are resources available, where does the money come from, what can people do to help, why does this happen…

Once I’d got one or two things off my chest we were on our way and the butterflies returned. We had a better idea of what to expect and rather than handing out soup in doorways to people who barely graced you with a grunt, as I was expecting, we rounded the corner to a collective of around 20 people enjoying soup and a roll.

They were laughing, shouting, biking around and telling jokes. Some were singing and others just keeping themselves to themselves but what struck me was that in the crudest sense of the word this was a community. It may be a dysfunctional one but a community none-the-less.

Just like the regulars down our local pub, my Dad would say they were there to ‘tell some jokes and swap some lies’ and that was exactly what it looked like. It wasn’t scary at all. We stood a little away from the group and I have to admit to feeling a little ashamed. I was there to see what goes on, yet felt like I was ‘observing’ these people – as if that was my right, which of course it isn’t.

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I needn’t have worried, soon enough a young chap called Tommy* came over and introduced himself. He held out his hand and said I looked like a Russian doll – my coat is red and he mentioned his Mum had a figure that wore a similar outfit.

He then proceeded to make us laugh with his dry sense of humour for the proceeding 10 minutes with his anecdotes and warnings of ‘don’t step back – there’s something behind you and it’s not great. I’ve just moonwalked through it. Never one to miss an opportunity to perform!’.

He then explained, very matter-of-factly that he was going to be spending a couple of hours with a man he had recently met who was sleeping on the streets at the other side of Leeds; ‘he doesn’t know anyone you see’, he explained, ‘he doesn’t have a blanket, so I’m going to help him get one’.

I believe that Tommy is an exception to the rule when you’re trying to engage with people who have such complex needs. The basic principle is that it’s every man for himself but I was taken by this young man and his eagerness to engage and to help someone else.

Then came Stuart*. Well, what a character! He approached a little cautiously at first and then held his hand out and said ‘hello, miss’. He continued to call me ‘miss’ despite knowing my name, it was a very gentlemanly gesture. At one point he seemed to go off into his own world and relive some tragedy, which made him cry, before coming back to the conversation and telling me that I should listen to Led Zeppelin.

Looking around the group of people I didn’t feel nervous or scared, I just felt compassion and a very deep sympathy – but not the sadness I expected. I didn’t want to cry, I just wanted to let them know that for that brief moment, I think I understood. Many of these people have little choice but to end up in the situations they do – it’s no surprise when you listen to their stories but then again, the same can be said for anyone.

I wouldn’t wish this situation on my worst enemy – to end up reliant on drugs or drink to get you through the day and help you to forget about the awful things you have experienced, before tucking yourself up on the cold steps of a shop doorway at the end of a long day in preparation for another night on the streets.

What I was so thankful for was the wonderful work that the team at Simon on the Streets deliver. It was about more than soup and a bun, it was about companionship and the closest thing to friendship these people may ever experience. Most importantly it was about listening. As simple as that. Listening without judgement.

Like many others I go through my day worrying about many things that in the grand scheme are trivial by comparison to the worries that these people have.

When I fall asleep tonight, tucked up in my warm bed, cup of tea in hand and hot water bottle by my side I will think about Tommy and Stuart and hope that they are ok, because thanks to them, I had a great night out and an experience that I will pass on to others in the hope that we can all do more to support the people in the system who for one reason or another just don’t fit.

Good night all.

*The names of those I met have been changed in order to protect their identity.

Where there’s a Skill Will there’s a way

It’s that time of year again… comfy sofa, glass of wine in hand, fire on, the family sat around wide eyed ready for the evening’s entertainment, wondering if this year ‘they’ will beat the target of last year, watching as people do a host of ridiculous stunts to try and raise just that little bit more for a worthwhile cause, giggles, smiles and then… it gets to 9pm and you find yourself sat, cheque book in one hand, phone in the other explaining to the family that presents are off this Christmas because we all have more than enough and should recognise the fact, our problems are nothing like those of others and for one year we can all just go without – it will do us some good. We then fall collectively (the women mostly) into a sniffling heap, promising the world to be a better person, to love our family more and to appreciate our children and step children even when they do all the things that make our blood boil every morning – yes folks, it’s Children In Need time!

I have to admit that despite my often hard exterior, I am one of those people. I will be sat sniffling in the corner, explaining to my long suffering husband that it’s just not fair and can’t we do a bit more and just live in a smaller house and do without wine – while he tops up my glass.

We both give to charities that are close to us on a regular basis (me Cancer Research UK and my hubby Barnardos) and we aren’t averse to helping out and volunteering when needed, in fact far from it, so I don’t harbour any guilt towards our philanthropic efforts – geez I even gave more than the usual £1 for a poppy this year, deciding that actually folding money would probably do more good.

However I often wonder, like most people, where the money really goes. Does it actually get to the people who matter? After working for a charity I completely understand the need to run these organisations like a business, otherwise they just don’t work, but it would be good to know how much of the donated pound we give, gets to those who matter.

More importantly I have found myself wondering more and more if there are other ways that people can do their bit without having to dig deep – especially when during difficult times every penny counts. Just because people don’t have a huge disposable income it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to help and that they have nothing to offer.

I notice that recent reports on the news have announced that there has been an increase in the number of local organisations offering food parcels to those who need them most, which I think is a great idea. If those who are able can add an item or two to the weekly grocery shop to donate to a food bank then we know that we are doing our bit. It may not change the world but it will give someone a meal for the evening.  What I like all the more is that you know that your donation will help someone locally.

I do think that supermarkets are missing a trick though. Why hasn’t one of the top four created a charity or worked with an existing organisation to simply ask that if people want to donate a tin or a jar of something that they pass it to the customer service counter. Would this be so difficult to administer? It seems like a wasted opportunity. Part of the reason people won’t donate to a food bank is that they won’t have the time to visit, so make it easier for them. You are also communicating with those who can donate at the point of purchase, what could be better?

Supermarkets may ask what they will get out of it but let’s be honest, they could do nothing and have a fantastic PR story that would support the food bank, raise the profile of the retailer and ensure that someone who needs it most is fed and watered.  All good.

And so, now on to business.

Yes, my thoughts about charitable giving didn’t stop at individual giving but also at business. As a member of the Yorkshire Mafia, a local networking group with more than 12,000 approved members, I was aware of a concept called Skill Will. At first I wasn’t so sure what it was all about but the idea is really simple; rather than giving money you give time.

As a small business there are lots of things that we would like to do for charity but the problem is who do you give to, where will your pound make most difference and how can you decide just how much is enough?  Also, unlike large corporate businesses we don’t have the big budgets to donate but what we do have is our skill.

Skill Will asks that businesses and charities come together to spend time providing advice and guidance to those who can benefit from it. Going back to my earlier point, charities have better things to do with their budgets than pay for PR, marketing, finance and legal costs, so if there are organisations who can offer these services for free everyone is happy.

As a business this idea works perfectly for us. We give our time out of hours, so that our commitment doesn’t impact on clients, and away we go. Not only can we offer professional advice but we can know that we are doing something that will add value and help.

So in the spirit of charitable giving and knowing that for today at least charity is at the forefront of people’s minds, can I please ask that all those businesses who feel that they have a skill to offer speak to the Yorkshire Mafia about how they can help? It would be fantastic if we could use this opportunity to make Yorkshire a shining example of how working together can make a genuine and very real difference.

Ok, so that’s my thoughts. Now for one final word and this time it’s advice, get your hankies at the ready folks, Pudsey the bear may look cuddly but he’s going to make you cry!