What I did on my volunteering day – Chris Harris


8 August 2016, by

On my volunteering day I went to Deptford Reach.

I was irrationally scared about doing this, simply because I had no idea what it would actually be like. Of course, it turned out to be fine. So I’m going to present an account of what happened, in the hope that it might make similar opportunities a bit less scary for anyone else with a similar fear of the unknown. I’ll then put some “lessons learned” at the end.

What happened

The timings were 8:30am – 2:30pm. The location was a day centre for homeless and vulnerable people, it serves hot breakfast and lunch, and gives out day-old Pret sandwiches for dinner; there’s also an IT room, an art room, and they have yoga and fun stuff like that throughout the week.

I got a very quick induction and was told I’d be in the kitchen. It’s a proper commercial kitchen and I got to wear whites and an apron and feel very professional. My fellow volunteer had been there for a month, and our boss was a trained chef from Zimbabwe called Renee. During breakfast time I chopped a load of mushrooms and was on toast duty for a brief while, during which I had my only interactions with the actual clients. They are charged a small fee for most breakfast items (e.g. 30p for a slice of bacon), but tea and toast is free, so lots of people were asking me for 4 slices of toast.

At about 11:30 it became clear there wouldn’t be any more kitchen work for me, so I made it known that I worked in IT and they asked if I wouldn’t mind working on their website. Apparently even though they get a lot of IT people volunteering, none of them want to do the website as they’d rather be in the kitchen or gardening or something. I actually found the mix of a morning in the kitchen and an afternoon on the computer quite nice. I spent 3 hours making some changes to a WordPress instance, including a bit of design (“add more colour”), a bit of bug fixing and a lot of adding new pages. See here for my handiwork!

I ended up leaving at about 3:15, later than my allotted hours but still a nice early finish. I’d been given some nice food, met some lovely people, had some new experiences and got to use my skills. Success.

Things I learned

I’m sure there are some more but here are the main things I learned:

  • Places like this exist. I’d never really been aware of them before, so I know a bit more about the world than I did yesterday.
  • I was reminded what it’s like to be completely new to something. I was glad to have an understanding boss, who delegated in a great way (started something off for me, watched me do it for a bit, and then let me get on with it). My goal was to not make a major blunder, so I spent a lot of time checking and confirming before doing anything irreversible.
  • My IT skills, although horribly out of date, are good enough to make a difference to a small charity like this.
  • My default tidiness standards are not good enough for a commercial kitchen…

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Categories: CSR

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