Matt Dowse, director of Caring in Bristol, talks about helping people escape the streets this Christmas and how companies can make a huge difference to the lives of those less fortunate during the festive season
What does Caring in Bristol do?
Our mission is to work towards a society where everyone has a home, has hope and is linked to a community. But the real thrust of Caring in Bristol is to help homeless people all year round. Over the last four years we have taken the charity from a well-established Christmas project, which was set up in 1987, and expanded the work we do, so it’s all year round.
What does your role as a director involve?
I have overall responsibility for the charity, but because we are a small organisation everyone is involved in the work we do. I have an incredible team of nine staff and my day-to-day job is offering leadership to them.
What will the charity be doing this Christmas?
Our Christmas project, which has been running for 30 years, was born out of activism and has grown year on year. Each Christmas, with the help of 800 volunteers, we take over a large space that is run throughout the rest of the year by Julian Trust [another homeless charity in Bristol]. We turn one half of the space into a day room with all sorts of activities, and the other half becomes a place for guests to sleep. We provide 80 beds each night, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, and last year we were full almost every evening. It really is incredible.
Charitable giving is vital at all times of the year, but what advice would you give to companies hoping to help out charities at Christmas?
Cake sales, auctions and dress-up days are all valuable ways to raise money. If you are in Bristol city centre there are also a number of contactless donation points, which enable you to donate £2 and the money is split between four charities that work with homeless people in the city. Another really useful way to help is through corporate volunteering. There is a point in the year when we need bodies to help us on the ground, so if groups of volunteers from businesses are able to offer their time, that’s fantastic.
How should companies decide who to donate to?
Christmas is a big time for donations for all charities in the UK, but I would encourage people to think and support local. If you donate locally you can actually make a difference to your community. Last year someone donated £1,500-worth of meat, all sourced from local butchers, which was fantastic. Private donations also really make a difference to the work that we do, whether that is £5 or £500.
What are you looking forward to this Christmas?
I look forward to meeting the volunteers and the guests every year. From both ends it’s a really diverse mix of people. What I love is that the volunteers have name badges but if you took those off, you honestly wouldn’t know who was a guest and who was a volunteer. It’s very special.
What are your plans for Caring in Bristol in 2018?
We have taken a big step in 2017 with new projects, so next year we will be establishing those projects and making sure they are financially viable. We are being much smarter as a charity and will be looking to assist and make partnerships with other organisations. We will be doing all sorts of innovative work, which will make a difference to the lives of many people in Bristol.
Caring in Bristol works to deliver support to homeless and vulnerable people in Bristol 365 days a year.