Volunteers week: 'Now I can talk to anyone'

Volunteers week: 'Now I can talk to anyone'

Matt was living in a hostel at 18. Volunteering at his local Shelter shop has helped him develop new skills, gain new opportunities and help people in his community.

Matt could be classed as part of a volunteering dynasty. His interest came from childhood, visiting his mum when she volunteered in the same Shelter shop that he volunteers in now, in Erdington, Birmingham.

Matt has been a valued member of the Erdington shop team since 2017. Primarily his role is Van Driver’s Mate, supporting the Van Driver in collecting and delivering furniture, but he contributes in many other areas. From covering the tills, shop floor, portable appliance testing (PAT) electricals and supporting the new upcycling workshop, Matt’s truly integrated with all parts of the shop.

With Matt’s varied role, it’s hard to describe a typical volunteering day. He drops his two children to nursery and cycles to the shop to see what the day holds. Often, he’ll be out in the van collecting furniture and identifying which items can be sold as they are, and which will go to the workshop to be upcycled and issued with new fire labels. A key part of this role is also in meeting and communicating with customers.

‘We go beyond for some customers who need it. We care for all our customers.’

Sometimes, the team take time out of their busy days to check in on their regular customers. Matt knew a customer had been in hospital, so dropped by to see how she was. ‘You could see at the door that it brightened her face. It made her day,’ he says.

Matt’s mindful that some of the donations are not given in the happiest of circumstances. He’s experienced customers crying as they’ve donated a loved one’s belongings after they’ve died and is careful to respect their emotions and the difficult time they’re going through.

‘All the customers are different. Every customer is different. Every house is different.’

Volunteering with Shelter also highlights to Matt the significant role the shop has in the local community. The shop is in an area with a high rate of homelessness. Matt and the rest of the shop team do their best to help, providing individuals with sleeping bags and advice helpline numbers.

Drawing on his own experience living in a hostel at 18, Matt says he wants to help people out of homelessness.

This desire to help is prominent throughout his volunteering. He welcomes and helps to train new volunteers and supports colleagues and customers. Matt says his standout moments are when he’s realised he’s done some good and made someone happy.

‘Me coming here [volunteering at Shelter] is not just benefiting me, but it’s benefiting a lot of people around.’

Matt describes the Erdington team as like a family. Being part of the team has been a big part of his time at Shelter. He loves the camaraderie, having a laugh with others and sharing what’s going on in their lives and the team spirit.

‘It’s a lovely environment. It’s warm, friendly and welcoming. Everyone’s happy to help. I come in in the morning and they all say hello and we all have a laugh with each other.’

The role has also been a chance for Matt to develop new skills. In his time at Shelter, he has learnt to build furniture, conduct PATs and improve his customer and interpersonal skills.

‘Before I came here, I wasn’t very confident with talking to other people. Now I can talk to anyone.’

Matt has enjoyed becoming further involved with the upcycling scheme and relishes spotting the right item to send to the workshop for refurbishment. Instead of disposing of pieces he enjoys working to revamp and then resell them in the shop. Matt was not expecting to enjoy being involved with restoration so much. He appreciates taking well-built furniture and giving it a new lease of life with the added extra of helping people.

Matt is proud of the part he plays at Shelter and as a volunteer. He says volunteering is a chance to help yourself, help others and gain new opportunities while enjoying yourself and having a laugh along the way.

‘It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s learning new experiences. It’s helping people come out of being homeless.’