By Sinéad Mangan-Mc Hale

For the last few weeks people have been thinking about what the best gift is to give over Christmas. But Christmas is more than beautifully wrapped gifts, it is about the gift of giving. Giving your time to help others – the best gift of all.

Christmas can be a very loving and family-oriented time for many people, but for others, including migrants without their families, it can be lonely and sad. Similarly, while Christmas may be considered a global event, many cultures do not celebrate the event, leaving some people with little or nothing to do over the holiday period.

In the spirit of giving, why not give your time to volunteer with some very needy charities and causes during the Christmas season? Most volunteers confirm that giving their time and skills to help others gives them a sense of purpose and a feeling of giving back.  

For migrants who have recently arrived in the UK or who have yet to find their community and sense of belonging, volunteering facilitates community integration and language development. It challenges the typical migrant stereotyping and misconceptions held by some. For those experiencing cultural loneliness, volunteering in local activities offers the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange and to share their own cultural experiences while learning the culture of their host country. 

If you are feeling lonely and socially isolated, volunteering can aid social interaction in a more informal and open-minded environment. Volunteers tend to work in an atmosphere of gratitude, both from the charity at having more people help them and from the recipients, who appreciate the effort strangers make to assist them and make their lives a little brighter, even if only for a short while. However, a volunteer also benefits tremendously from the experience, helping with proficiency in English, increasing self-esteem, and, in many cases, skills development. Additionally, many employers are now seeking recruits with a keen sense of civic responsibility and engagement. Volunteering experience on a curriculum vitae demonstrates a commitment to integrating into a new society and an understanding of responsibility to help those less fortunate. 

For those migrants and refugees employed in their country of origin, particularly those who held a professional position, the inability to work when they arrive in the UK can be particularly frustrating. Many migrants arrive in the UK with professional skills and years of experience, often with skills that are in high demand, and yet, due to legal constraints, are unable to work in their given profession. Volunteering in areas of specific interest and skills offers the potential for professional networking and can provide a routine and structure that helps toward stability and normalcy. 

People have also reported that volunteering has helped distract them from their personal challenges. Their problems are not solved, but focusing on helping others and contributing to the community enables them to temporarily forget their problems or, in some cases, to put their issues into perspective, allowing them to take a different approach to resolution.

Volunteering during the Christmas season allows individuals to experience the holiday spirit, and if it is for the first time, it can be a delightful experience. The holiday spirit at a local soup kitchen or a homeless centre is less about the commercial side of Christmas and more authentic, giving, and joyful – the true spirit of Christmas.

To find volunteering opportunities

Crisis at Christmas

Crisis works at Christmas and all year round to support people across Britain to build their lives beyond homelessness. Our Christmas services work alongside the specialist support we provide all year, including helping people find their own stable home and access education and training. Through our year-round services, hotels and health and wellbeing programmes, we will support over 7,000 people this Christmas.  

As a Crisis at Christmas volunteer, you will be part of a friendly and supportive community of like-minded people passionate about ending homelessness. Many of our volunteers return year after year. As a volunteer, you will gain skills, have inspiring experiences, build confidence, and help someone as they start to build a life beyond homelessness.

Typical volunteer roles include providing fresh and nourishing home-cooked meals for guests and members, offering specialist services such as haircuts, podiatry, and physiotherapy, driving guests and/or wellbeing packages and offering advice.

To find out more and get involved, click here.

Your local night shelters and churches

Being proactive can help, as some opportunities might not be widely advertised. Contact your local night shelter or church or check out your local library for details of organisations that might need volunteers on Christmas Day. 

Age UK

Elderly people face a crisis of loneliness, particularly acute at Christmas. Local Age UK branches may be operating on Christmas Day, so get in touch and see what’s available by contacting directly or going to www.ageuk.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/volunteering-enquiry. Age UK’s Telephone Friendship Service also runs on Christmas Day, but volunteers must commit to a year of volunteering and call once a week. To sign up, go to friendship.ageuk.org.uk

Rotary Christmas Day

In London, the Wandsworth Rotary Club holds an annual Christmas Day event for the elderly in the area. They’re looking for bus escorts to take guests to and from the event. You can sign up at https://rotarychristmasday.org/, and your local rotary club may also have similar opportunities if you contact them directly.

Volunteering for the Christmas Dinner project

Across the country, 34 Christmas dinners will be taking place for care leavers who have just aged out of the care system and would otherwise be spending Christmas alone. Started by poet Lemn Sissay in 2013, the initiative needs volunteers to cook, give gifts, or spend the day with care leavers. Find out more here: https://www.goldfromthestone.org.uk/thechristmasdinner.

Felix Project

Christmas volunteers are needed at the Felix Project to help sort and pick at its four depots in Enfield, Park Royal, Deptford, and Poplar and deliver food to its community organisation partners. The Poplar kitchen also needs regular help to prepare and the staggering 5,000 meals it makes every day. Felix Project helps families and children, the homeless, the elderly, domestic abuse survivors, refugees, people on low income, people struggling with mental health and addition and more. Find out more here: https://thefelixproject.org/help-us/volunteer-london.

Whatever the reason you volunteer your time, above all the other benefits, you are guaranteed to experience the joy of giving. Volunteering creates a sense of fulfilment and personal satisfaction, and the pleasure of making someone happy even for just one day is ultimately rewarding. Why not make it your Christmas gift to others?

TogetherintheUK would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, 

and a hope for a spirit of giving through 2024.

Picture by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash