“I’ve been Father Christmas twice” Ed chuckles proudly bearing a warm smile. “That’s the hardest work I’ve done in my life.”
Six years ago, Ed Russell began volunteering with us at our Sheffield hub as an Admin Volunteer. As we collect a large amount of data from clients and cases that come our way, ensuring this data is stored properly and deleted every 7 years is vital in protecting those who come to us for help. Ed volunteers with us 8 hours a week and has had previous experience of both poor housing and being homeless.
These situations would put anyone under an immense amount of stress – both mentally and physically. Ed comes across as a very high-spirited individual, who has an obvious lust for life and has decided to use his past experiences to help others in similar situations.
Before coming to Shelter, Ed rented a two-bedroom council house flat in Sheffield, sharing with another tenant. It appeared as if Ed had landed on his feet as he and the other tenant got on well. They separated their chores evenly and kept the place neat and tidy. Out of the blue, another tenant moved into the property with her child and was now occupying the living room that Ed and his fellow tenant used, particularly to access the kitchen. It was a complete violation of Ed’s living environment and he felt intruded upon. The landlord made a habit of collecting £5 tips on top of the rent he already charged his tenants and asked Ed to collect the £5 from the new tenant. When Ed refused, the landlord told him to leave. “And that’s what I did,” said Ed.
“I rented another place. I was desperate and it was winter. It was an attic with a sloping roof, and I could see daylight through the roof. It was unbelievable but like I said, when you get desperate…if it was summer, I might’ve said I’m going to sleep out in the woods somewhere. I really made the decision to be homeless. I thought I’d rather just forget about all this, filling in forms and all the rest of it and being treated like dirt.”
After witnessing a violent crime in Manchester, Ed had to make the hard decision to leave the place where he was sleeping rough, out of fear of being called on as a witness to the crime. He didn’t want to be involved in the case at all and was afraid that his reluctance to give evidence could send him to prison. Ed found himself in Cornwall and described his experience of being homeless here as a way to escape everything.
“It worked out okay. I got a bit of work on the farms and it was quite a good life. I knew what was going on in Manchester in the homeless community. It’s a very violent, volatile, dangerous place to be and I thought if I’m going to be homeless, I’m going to be homeless somewhere nice.”
Ed made the decision to return home to South Yorkshire to be closer to his children. He remarked on how Shelter had helped him get out of his living situation and once he was more put together, he decided to become a volunteer.
“I feel like [volunteering] is keeping me young and it’s keeping me active. I’ve got a routine. A lot of people who’re retired lose that routine and their body goes.
“I go home on the bus at night and think ‘I’ve done something good today, I’ve helped somebody.’ It’s a good feeling to know that you’ve given someone a step up the ladder because that’s what people need. They don’t need the whole ladder, they just need that helping hand on the first step. After that, they can cope”
Ed says he’s learnt to be less judgemental and more aware of his community through volunteering. He’s seen first-hand how circumstances can change beyond your control and has had his confidence to speak publicly boosted, having now spoken with us at events and conferences. On the 50th Anniversary of Shelter, Ed had the chance to speak to a crowd of 500 people about his experience of being homeless and how we’ve helped him, which he found uplifting.
“I just felt, ‘I’m here for a reason’. Shelter has helped me realise my potential which I feel like I couldn’t do before”
For most people, doing something that they perceive to be bigger than themselves can be daunting. For Ed, it’s now his every day. When asked what he’d tell people about Shelter, he said:
“Nobody is turned away. If we can’t deal with it because it’s not within our control, we’ll always try to signpost people. Then you don’t feel like you’re just passing people on, you’re doing the right thing by referring them to someone else.”
The fight for home is more urgent than ever and in that battle our volunteers are invaluable.
If you’d be interested in getting involved, join us.