Christmas is well and truly in full swing here in Manchester, as I’m sure it is all over the UK. I’m not Christian, so it’s not an occasion I celebrate, but in the past I’ve spoken about how much I enjoy this time of year. For me it’s not about the excitement of receiving presents, not about advent calendars (although the hotel chocolat one at work has significantly contributed to this years excitement somewhat) and it’s not about the tremendous amount of food we all seem to consume.
I just love the atmosphere. I love the spirit of goodwill, because it sure is fruitful once December comes around… I only wish it would stay this way all year. It’s nice to see the season of giving stirs up charitable feelings in almost everyone.
Yes this is a travel and food blog, but as I’ve said many a time… it’s also my talk-about-what-ever-I-want blog and I love taking time every so often to talk about charity.
This year, I moved offices into the city centre and my lovely building had set itself up as a Mission Christmas drop off point. I had heard lots of things about this project, but didn’t really know too much about it, apart from the fact that it was huge on the radio and that it distributed toys.
I’ve never really told people about this, but as it illustrates a point I’d like to make, I thought it was worth sharing. I volunteer with a homeless project in Manchester, the Greater Manchester Winter Night Shelter (GMWNS), it’s a project I was introduced to by my sister and one I’ve stayed involved with for the last two years. It only runs over the winter months, October to April, and it’s aim is to provide temporary accommodation to a number of gentlemen who are working alongside the Booth Centre (another great charity) to get themselves off the street and into a home. Working alongside the volunteers and guests here have taught me some of my most valuable life lessons.
The most important one of the lot – you should never assume you know what people need. I repeat NEVER assume.
I used to be the type of person that expected charities to concentrate on life’s essential items: food, water, clothing etc. But I’ve learnt that it is not for me to say what is or isn’t an essential item. And that, is one of the most valuable lessons I think I’ve ever taken on board. It made me re-evaluate even how I looked at my own life. How I used the word, and how I shopped for my own essentials and luxuries.
I think pre-GMWNS I always wondered why Mission Christmas spent all their time and money collecting toys and not things like school uniforms, healthy foods, books… but I now understand that this isn’t about just improving the ‘physical’ wellbeing of children, it’s about one simple thing and one simple thing only: Happiness.
Happiness is a wonderful thing and we all strive for it, no? It doesn’t matter how much, how little or how mediocre your life is, if you can have moments of happiness it will carry you through.
That’s what both of these wonderful charities represent to me. Groups of people, working together to bring just a little bit of brightness back into peoples lives.
The headline sponsor of Mission Christmas, Bathroom takeaway, invited myself and a few other bloggers to visit Mission HQ and see exactly what the project was all about yesterday. A short walk from Piccadilly, few extra gifts in hand I was excited to catch up with some familiar faces and see the charity work for myself. Walking in it’s quite breath-taking just how vast the space is and how slick the whole operation runs.
There are drop off points all over the city, but they all end up here at this central location. Bathroom takeaway last year donated their own warehouse over the December period to store and organise the gifts, however with the sheer scale of what was coming in, this year the MD of the company found and secured this warehouse solely for the Mission Christmas project. Every day employees from the company and teams of volunteers roll in early morning and keep things running smoothly as drop offs are made and toys are collected. This year they had over 68000 applications for disadvantaged kids from all over the UK whose parents didn’t want them to wake up to no toys this Christmas.
I said it earlier, I don’t believe in Christmas, but as I sipped on my morning brew in that freezing cold warehouse chatting to the team, Lizzy from key103 said something that caught my attention:
“families believe in the magic and we need to keep that alive.”
Yes, yes we do. Whether I believe in Christmas or not is irrelevant. This was all about making someone else’s dream come true, even if it was just for the one day. And that right there is why this project is so great.
I’m probably sharing information you already know, as I felt like the last person to jump on this bandwagon of love for Mission Christmas, I mean they had a lot of support during the morning we were there, a huge donation was announced, guests such as Chief constable Ian Hopkins, Andy Burnham, Masterchef winner Simon Wood and Man City Female football stars all appeared as the final push for donations was broadcast live on Key103 right there in the warehouse.
Having seen Mission Christmas in action was definitely a privilege, huge thank you to Bathroom takeaway for showing us the ropes and extending their hospitality yesterday. I’m glad I was able to support a great charity. I urge you to check them out – see if you can help – you can read more on their website.
But more importantly, I urge you to not just use this joyous of year to donate your money or ‘things’ – find a moment to donate your time. I often stress the importance in recognising the humanity within a situation, it’s going to sound a little crass but throwing money at a charitable situation, although it will help, I’m not in any way saying it won’t – but you won’t understand the struggle, you won’t truly understand the situation.
It’s easy for us to feel pity, to feel bad, to walk past a homeless person in the street and feel guilty. But what you’ll find is all of these people, the humans asking for our help, we could be any one of them. Volunteering will remind you of that. Remind you that we are not invincible and remind you that sometimes we can’t control when circumstances change.
Volunteer your time. Offer your upbeat personality, your hand of friendship, your skills, your ridiculous jokes, your humanity and ability to connect with someone else and let them know they are not alone.
The funny thing is the whole time I’ve been volunteering for GMWNS, I’ve actually felt like the one who’s benefitted. I have met some of the most amazing and inspirational people through the project, people who have made me push harder and be better than I can be and these people weren’t even volunteers, they were the guests themselves. Although the volunteers I’ve met thus far have been pretty fab too, if you are interested in helping out I urge you to pick up the phone and give project leader Craig a call, he’s BRILLIANT (and they are still looking for volunteers!).
For information on the two charities I’ve mentioned above:
Mission Christmas, Cash for Kids
Greater Manchester Winter Night Shelter, part of Greater Together Manchester – I mentioned above they are still in need of helpers, so please do check them out, give it a go 🙂
*** Thank you to Bathroom Takeaway for inviting us to experience what goes on at Mission HQ and of course, and big love to all the people out there who volunteer and go the extra mile to help others. You know the drill, all opinions on here are mine and mine alone HOWEVER in this post, some of the images are by Bathroom Takeaway, not all are mine 🙂 ***