Sharing in the festive spirit doesn’t just have to mean trudging home with a sack of presents after a month of hangovers. Volunteering or helping a London charity with their drive could give you some serious festive feel-good factor.
Most charities can't operate without the help of dedicated volunteers year-round and now is as good a time as any to sign up or register your interest in an ongoing position. Though if your work or commitments prevent you from having enough time to commit past the festive period, there are some charities that need help ramping up their festive and winter services from all sorts of skillsets — be it by cooking, sorting, delivering food or even entertaining at Crisis' Christmas day centre events.
Lending a hand and being part of a team at such an imperative time for vulnerable people will not only help to put personal problems in context, but it can have clear psychological effects, says Cheryl Isaacs, a psychologist at OPM Consulting in Wandsworth.
“When we’re in that compassionate and caring state we tend to release more oxytocin or the ‘love drug’ — that tends to bond us to people,” she explains. “The release of that oxytocin adds to that feel-good factor — it’s a very real thing that happens in our brains.”
Here’s how to join the heroes of Christmas 2023.
Food for thought
Food banks are at breaking point this year as the cost of living crisis pushes increasing numbers of families onto the breadline. A study by the Trussell Trust, found that 225,000 people in the UK turned to a food bank for the first time last winter, and this year they expect that number to rise. It means they predict over a million food parcels will be needed for families this winter. While The Felix Project, a London-based food charity fighting waste and hunger reports that one in four working Londoners will struggles to afford to feed their family. So it really is all hands on deck for food charities this Christmas.
You can help the Trussell Trust by searching the vacancies in your location via their website, and by donating much-needed food and supplies to your local bank. There are 57 in and around London, and each has specific shortages, so be sure to check which items would help most before you shop. You can also use the Give Food location device to find other food banks near you, and see what items they’re requesting, to help someone to put together their Christmas dinner.
At the Felix Project, Christmas volunteers are needed 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 pack 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 incomes, people struggling with mental health and addiction, and more.
One in four working Londoners will struggles to afford to feed their family.
The Felix Project
Feast With Us is another charity providing nutritious meals to those in food poverty, as well as providing food education and cooking skills. They're looking for delivery drivers and food collectors (on bike and by car), but if you're not road confident, there's also everything from videographer to social media positions listed currently.
While Feast With Us — who've been distributing thousands of hot meals for over 30 years — have opportunities that suit even the most time-poor Londoners, with micro-volunteering roles requiring as little as three hours admin commitment a week.
Connect with the elderly
Age UK and Re-engage both pair isolated older people with volunteer call companions. It's a great way to connect with someone with shared interests who might be experiencing loneliness or boredom, and only requires as little as 30-minutes commitment a week from the comfort of your home.
Age UK's Telephone Friendship Service matches over 18s with over 60s so you can get to know someone with a chat on the same day every week. They need a year's commitment after you've been checked, trained and matched with a suitable new friend.
Re-engage's Call Companion service also works with over 18s by connecting them with older people. It also has services specifically for older people dealing with Parkinson's and those who identify as LGBTQ+.
"It's all too easy — much easier than we'd imagine in this day and age — to be lonely and isolated as we get older and society shifts round us at its usual oblivious fast pace. Re-engage is a charity there for LGBTQ+ people in our later years who find themselves marginalised, lonely or isolated. It's a network of friendly and trusted folk who'll keep in touch," says author and playwright Ali Smith of the importance of the service.
Offer support for younger people in need
There are also volunteer helplines for younger generations and adults struggling to cope as well. Under-25s counselling service The Mix has several remote volunteering opportunities, while Shout’s free text message service for people of any age is taking volunteer applications for flexible shifts of between two to four hours. In spite of being remote, it's a warm and supportive community with plenty of help on hand from supervisors. 75% of volunteers say that committing their time to helping others has a positive effect on their own wellbeing.
Keep Londoners warm
Coat donation drives have been running since November to help keep vulnerable people including women and young children in shelters, young adults, the homeless, the elderly, and refugees warm as temperatures plummet. Among them is WrapUp London, which is now in its 13th year of donating outerwear via their charity and community group partners. They will be using volunteers to sort the coats until mid December in Morden six days a week for two or three hours shifts. If you'd like to help you can contact the team at email@example.com.
The cold is also one of the toughest issues facing elderly people this winter due to energy prices. A YouGov poll recently found that around 13 per cent of people aged 65 and over have turned off the heating when their house is cold in a bid to save money — a worrying plight considering we're experiencing a UK winter which has already seen temperatures dip below zero.
The Small Acts of Kindness charity is fighting against this by providing elderly people with care packages to “heat the person, not the home” so that vulnerable people can stay warm without worrying about soaring bills. You can donate online, where £10 will buy a warm blanket, and you can add items such as jigsaws, slipper socks, hats and shortbread to your package.
Help the homeless
Crisis at Christmas is the country’s biggest volunteering operation over the festive season and has been going for more than 50 years. Sign up to help out at one of its day centres or rough sleeper centres, which have volunteering opportunities for people including drivers, chefs and entertainers (yes, they put on slots from everyone from magicians to caricaturists for their brilliant big day celebrations). There's even gift wrapping roles and home-based IT support jobs, so there really is a way for everyone to spread the cheer.
To help raise funds for Crisis, you can shop luxury clothes and gifts at its brilliant 27 Savile Row pop-up which runs until December 14 at the decommissioned West End Central police station. There's a late night shopping event on December 7 and it culminates in an annual raffle competition of the very best donated items. The charity is also looking for volunteers to help run the shop. You can find out more firstname.lastname@example.org.
In east London, Hackney Doorways relies on the work of more than 600 volunteers to stay open and help the homeless find a warm, dry place to sleep. It is currently looking for some new general volunteers to commit to regular help going forward. Email email@example.com to find out more.
Mentor and motivate
Reading charity Bookmark lets volunteers book flexible 30-minute virtual reading sessions with children under eight to help them to succeed in school, while The Access Project works with GCSE and A-level students from disadvantaged backgrounds across the capital. UK-based graduates and current undergraduates can apply to volunteer as a tutor online on a subject they're passionate about.
If you’re in work, the charity programme Inspiring the Future welcomes you to sign up as a volunteer over the holidays. Find opportunities to share your career journey with young people at state schools to help raise aspirations and discover the qualifications, skills, and behaviours they will need to succeed in the future workplace, as well as find out about other roles such as becoming a school governor.
Breadwinners is a charity giving work experience and jobs to refugees on (you guessed it) bread market stalls and through its wholesale service. It's to combat the fact that despite being highly skilled, 70% of refugees in London are without jobs. They are looking for motivated individuals to act as employment mentor to young people who haven't had any work experience in the UK.
Another employment charity, Breaking Barriers is hiring for volunteers to offer advice and guidance, operational duties and English language skills to help refugees get into work. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Host a refugee
If you want to open your home in order to help an individual or family get back on track, then charities including Room for Refugees, Refugees at Home and Positive Action In Housing are all taking applications from potential London hosts. These schemes require DBS and other checks, so for a speedier way to help, try sites matching hosts or communities and refugees such as Citizens UK (via USPUK) and Reset.
See what else is out there
Keen to see where your skill set would help most? Team London is a fantastic search tool for general volunteering opportunities — just type the kind of opportunity you're looking for and your postcode into its search engine. Try searching Christmas if you want your volunteering to be festive flavoured.
OnHand, the on-demand impact app for volunteering and eco-action also allows you to access a range of remote and local volunteering opportunities. They're often flexible to your schedule and you can choose according to the causes you're passionate about. Currently they're listing varied positions for hot meal service Food For All, micro volunteering for RSPCA and lots of other ways to help Londoners and our four-legged friends.
Donate to our Winter Survival Campaign
If you don't have time to volunteer or want to give funds to help even more Londoners, we have partnered with Comic Relief to launch our Winter Survival Appeal Christmas Campaign, with Comic Relief pledging £500,000 to kick off our fund. The money we raise will help fund charities in London and across the country helping people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis. So far we have raised £1.5 million, and counting.
To make a donation, visit comicrelief.com/wintersurvival