What’s it like to volunteer for HARC?

Thanks to SheffGives for this interesting piece about volunteering for HARC-

“There’s always complaints if the bacon runs out at breakfast time, but I’d be the same, wouldn’t you?”, said one volunteer with a grin, when sharing his experiences of volunteering with HARC (Homeless and Rootless at Christmas) over the past few festive periods. “But they are a good bunch really, on the whole appreciative and grateful for support over what can be such a tricky time for people”.

On a hot and sticky May morning, I met with a group of volunteers to talk about their experiences of volunteering with HARC. Despite Christmas feeling forever away, planning for the project was already under way, as it is every year.

HARC has been running in Sheffield since 1989 and provides a safe and warm place for vulnerable people to  go over the Christmas period, when  most other services in the city are closed. Guests, who number around 70-100 each day, enjoy hot food and drinks, entertainment and activities, and make use of other services such as a hairdresser, podiatrist and substance misuse worker. The project is staffed entirely by volunteers, many of whom have been volunteering for years, working in a variety of roles, with some travelling in from outside of the city to lend their support; a real mix of ages and backgrounds, but all mucking in together to support those most in need in the city.

The volunteers shared their stories of volunteering with HARC with me;

“One guy had been kicked out of the family home just a few days before as his wife had moved another man in. He was sleeping rough and missed his kids terribly. He was finding things very, very difficult but was trying hard to hold himself together. He just needed someone to talk through things with, a friendly ear and some food, then he could start working out what his next steps were.”

“There is so much that is enjoyable about volunteering with HARC. Meeting and talking with the guests and getting to know the other volunteers. A very busy time but really enjoyable. It was only when I stopped at the end of the shift that I realised how tiring it can be, but in a good way. You know that what you’ve done has made a real difference in people’s lives – that’s incredibly rewarding and a great antidote to Christmas excess.”

“One thing that humbled me was the strength and resilience some of the guests had developed in order to deal with their situations.”

“I remember we had a volunteer who was in doing some arts and crafts and I was trying to drum up some support for the activities she’d brought in. I managed to convince one young man to have a go at some card making.  He was initially quite reluctant to get involved, but eventually agreed to go over to the craft table.  He ended up spending a long time there and chatting animatedly to the volunteer over a cup of tea.  Later he handed over a beautiful handmade card in which he’d written how grateful he was to HARC for all the hard work put in by volunteers. That was a lovely moment!”

“I’ve learnt from some of the guests how to improve my bingo calling! It’s lovely to chat with guests who you get to know over the years, but sad to think that that they are still lonely, vulnerable or homeless and that their situation has not improved. That motivates many of the volunteers to do more after the project has finished each year, by supporting other charities and organisations in the city throughout, not just at Christmas time.”

Liz Grasso, Project Coordinator, starts planning for the project almost as soon as the previous year’s project has finished, tables have been cleared, and the last Christmas decorations taken down; when Christmas is pretty far from everybody’s mind. But with over 2000 meals to be served, a hefty £6000 food budget to organise and volunteers to recruit, there’s a lot of work to be done before anyone sets foot into the project the following December.

There’s always fundraising to be done, with many local churches having strong historical links to the project and being a regular source of donations, but also great support from local businesses, the general public at festive markets in the city, and schools too. The project needs cash to be able to run, and it’s easy to donate via their Virgin money giving page here:


Other practical ways to support the project are through donating underwear and socks, which are always in high demand, along with warm winter clothing and toiletries.

There are changes afoot in the city around benefits later this year, Liz explained, “we are yet to see how the rollout of Universal Credit will affect our guests this Christmas time – there are bound to be lots of hungry families in the city if the delays we’ve seen across the country are mirrored in Sheffield. We only allow guests over 18 for safeguarding reasons, so apart from foodbanks, I’m not sure where they’ll be able to go for support. It’s a worry”.

If you are interested in volunteering with HARC, the team have arranged a link up with the Sunday Centre, where you can experience a taster session of what HARC volunteering may entail. The Sunday Centre serves homeless and vulnerable people, providing hotfood and drinks on a Sunday afternoon in Victoria Hall in the City centre.

If you’re interested, please contact harc.sheffield@virgin.net for more information.

In the words of one volunteer, “do it, enjoy it, I’m pretty sure you will!”

SheffGives for HARC, May 2018.