An employee from the Sussex depot of gas distribution company SGN, Pam Dean, sacrificed her family Christmas to help at a centre for homeless people run by the charity CRISIS.
CRISIS opens 10 Christmas day centres in London between 23 and 29 December, with the aim of giving homeless and vulnerably housed people a relaxed, safe and warm place to spend the festive period.
With the support of volunteers, they can enjoy hot meals, a shower, haircut and clean clothing. They also have access to a dentist, optician, doctor or a physiotherapist if needed.
Pam, who works as a depot administration clerk for SGN at its Sussex depot in Horsham, spent four days over Christmas – including Christmas Day – helping to serve Christmas dinner and run activities such as football matches and table tennis tournaments in the gym at the charity’s Lewisham College day centre.
Pam’s first day at the centre, on 23 December, was taken as part of SGN’s Community Action Programme, in which every employee is given one day each year on company time to help out in their local community.
Around 150 homeless people visited the centre each day over the Christmas period, supported by over 500 helpers throughout the week. Volunteers from the local council’s housing department were there to help get people into permanent accommodation and visitors were able to use the centre’s computer facilities to Skype home and talk to their families.
It was the third consecutive Christmas that Pam, 48, had helped at the centre. She explained how she first got involved with the charity: “I saw an advert on television three years ago appealing for people to help, so I applied straight away to become a volunteer.
“Although I miss spending Christmas with my children and seeing my grandchildren open their presents, they’re really supportive of what I do, so that makes it easier.
“It’s incredibly rewarding – this year I had people who recognised me from last Christmas coming up and giving me a big hug.
“It can also be very emotional though. When I got home and had time to reflect on the experience, I just cried thinking about how lucky I was to have a warm home and a family to come back to – things we often just take for granted.”
Brad Jayakody from Crisis, who is responsible for running the Lewisham day centre, said: “Pam is a shining ray of happiness, even among the many volunteers who give up their free time. This year she dressed as a Christmas pudding, which put many a smile on the faces of our volunteers and guests.
“During her time at Crisis this year, Pam worked both in the shift office as well as on the main floor with our guests. It was a pleasure and honour to work with such a dedicated and happy individual, and I look forward to working with her again in 2016!”
Report and picture contributed by Penny Porter.