Christmas Volunteers

in Features

The Christmas season, especially Christmas Day is a time to enjoy simple but incredibly important pleasures: food, warmth, family – perhaps a hot toddy or 2.

Sadly, not everyone is in a personal or financial position to experience the kind of Christmas we all love and will in time, reminisce about.

Thankfully, there are individuals who give their time, energy and kindness to creating a Christmas special for those who find themselves without emotional and practical support.

One such person is Dawn Tuckwell, 39, from Stoke Newington London.  Dawn is a co-founder and director of a PR and marketing business specialising in health and wellness. This is her personal experience:

‘I heard about the Crash Pad and Pilion Trust nine years ago and was told they were looking for volunteers. 

The Crash Pad is the only shelter of its kind that looks after 18-23 year olds who find themselves homeless and in need of support. Set up because night shelters were a scary place for young homeless people to stay. The work these guys do is incredible and the success stories of the young people who have been housed, found great jobs and some gone on to volunteer themselves in later years has been amazing.

It runs during the cold weather months so from December – end of April usually – this is often dependent on how much fund raising they manage to achieve.

I have been very fortunate to always have a roof over my head and friends and family whom I know will always be there if I needed them. I could not begin to imagine how frightening and lonely it must be to not have anyone to turn to in times of hardship. The Crash Pad really struck a chord with me. To have such young people slip through the system have so little support was a real eye opener and is heart breaking to see.  

Running a business is hard work and involves long hours but it also gives me the freedom to dictate when I work those hours.  After the first year of working with the Crash Pad I decided that I would rearrange my hours to allow me to dedicate an evening / night / morning  per week to The Crash Pad and I am so pleased I did so. The Crash Pad has given me so much and has always been the favourite part of my week.

Before Covid I was managing Thursday evenings through to Friday mornings. Crash Pad houses young people in crisis and at risk and runs seven days a week. The young people are provided with a bed, clean sheets, dinner and breakfast and somewhere to wash.

The young people stay with us until we can find somewhere more long term for them so we often become one big family. They get a structure and routine into their lives while they consider their futures.    

We cook dinner and breakfast for the young people and we all sit down to eat together. We also take turns in each of the young people assisting with cooking each evening and have a rota in place for cleaning as well.

Christmas is always a difficult time for the young people but it’s also always been a difficult time for me as well. Selfishly I think the Crash Pad also helps me to put things into perspective. We have so much and take so much for granted. When I meet these young people, some of whom have fled a dangerous situation with nothing but the clothes on their back and have no one to turn to for support, I realise how small my worries really are.

The first year I volunteered over the Christmas Eve and Christmas day I’d just been through the break-up of a long term relationship and was dreading Christmas even more than usual. 

Volunteering actually gave me more than I could have imagined and allowed me to forget about what I was going through and focus on supporting those more in need. Since then I’ve preferred to be there than anywhere else at Christmas. It can be emotionally hard sometimes to see these young people struggling and I’d be lying if I said I don’t find it tough sometimes because you want to be able to help more but I’d rather be there than not.  

You’d be surprised how many people offer to support these charities on Christmas day but it’s Christmas Eve that often is even harder for these young people – knowing that they are waking up on Christmas Day without their family. Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are also harder to find volunteers for than Christmas Day itself.

Christmas eve I usually help prepare the lunch for the following day ahead of us cooking the next morning. I know emotionally it’s hard for them on Christmas Eve so we all try to be there as much as we can to keep them busy.

On Christmas day we cook lunch and eat together.  Local businesses often provide treats and gifts for them as well. We’re really lucky to have the support of local businesses and churches in Islington – they do go above and beyond to ensure we have gits and food for the young people at Christmas. I know that so many of them have never seen real kindness in their lives.’

What’s incredible is that over the years I’ve seen some of the young people who stayed with us at the Crash Pad years before come back and volunteer themselves and also come and join us on Christmas Day. Seeing how well they are now doing gives real hope to those who are staying with us at the time, and to see the family and support network they have developed.’

Pilion Trust:

You can find out more about The Crash Pad project here:

The Crash Pad has been given the go ahead to open again this year as we were forced to close due to Covid restrictions last year. 

You can donate here:

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