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1st March 2024

Getting involved: Volunteering at the Booth Centre

Getting involved in volunteering can help you feel more connected to Manchester and support the local community, here’s one writer’s experience
Getting involved: Volunteering at the Booth Centre
Credit: Katt Yukawa @ Unsplash

As a student at the University of Manchester, it is easy to stay in the student bubble. Living in Fallowfield for the second year, most of my neighbours are also students, coming from as far as the exotic lands of MMU, RNCM, or Salford Uni. Back home in Bath, it had been easy to feel connected to the community; I’d been at school there, had friends who lived across the area and knew the town like the back of my hand. Manchester, though, was a whole different ballpark. Even as I felt I was getting to know the student side of the city, I still felt very disconnected from the community spirit that Manchester prides itself on.

Cut to the start of second year, and I stumbled across the Volunteering Fair (like the freshers’ fair, but for those who pride themselves on moral integrity – and don’t shut up about it). Walking around the stalls, I knew what I didn’t want to do (work with children) and found some pretty alluring options (volunteering at the Warehouse Project for free tickets). As much as the earplugs and anti-spiking bottle stop took my fancy, I still felt I wanted to get involved in a more community-focused way. I was lucky enough to get chatting with Thom from the Booth Centre, who was looking for community volunteers to help at their day centre for homeless people in Greater Manchester. A couple of emails later, and I was off to my trial shift.

Leaving at the crack of dawn (07:30 am) and trekking across town to far and unknown lands (further north than Victoria Station), I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Booth Centre. Just off the main road and hidden amongst a run-down carpark and some decrepit buildings, I certainly wasn’t expecting to find a community centre with an award-winning garden and bright upstairs space for the dearly loved activities – namely, Tuesday morning Philosophy sessions.

Mornings at the Booth Centre are always different, from working in reception to filling out forms with service users, playing the piano (essential), and making cups of tea. I can only describe the atmosphere as warm and friendly; everyone is on a first-name basis with each other, and at times it feels more like a café than a day centre.

It is a place generally filled with kindness and good intention, but it was also definitely a bit of a culture shock and made me much more aware of the real issues that the homeless and asylum seekers face in Manchester: no-fault evictions have caused the number of service users to skyrocket, and all too many who receive their long-awaited Leave to Remain are quickly cast out of their housing and onto the street with little to no support.

I certainly felt a little out of my depth initially, especially as the other students working at the Booth Centre were studying social work and on degree placements. I should have taken this as a sign that everyone was in good hands, though. It was easy to feel like everyone else knew what they were doing, but I quickly learnt that being smiley or chatty in itself was deemed helpful; the volunteers aren’t there to boss people around but to offer a friendly face or make a cup of tea – something that does come with a surprising amount of pressure.

Speaking with the other volunteers who give their time more frequently and have done so for many years, I learnt that it is important to decompartmentalise in this sense. I was told that if you let the difficulties wear you down, then you can’t offer the support that you’re there to provide, and that advice is something I plan to take with me whilst I continue to volunteer at the Booth Centre.

I was extremely lucky to have met such kind and patient staff and volunteers during my first few shifts, which made mornings at the Booth Centre feel a little less intense and overwhelming. One thing that makes the Booth Centre unique in comparison to other places I’ve volunteered in the past is the camaraderie and supportive atmosphere that means that everyone, service users and volunteers alike, can have a good morning. Selfishly, it has also been a really nice way to feel like I’m actually venturing out of the uni bubble and getting to know Manchester as a city that many people call home all year round, not just during term time.

You can find out more about how to get involved with the Booth Centre here.

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