Photo by Chris Dobson.
Jon, who’s recently finished studying at Trinity College, has been a volunteer at the Wild Goose for two and half years. As he prepares to leave Bristol to take up his curacy, he reflects on his time serving as a Duty Manager.
What made you get involved?
I found Trinity College a bubble of Christian people – lovely, lovely Christian people! But it sent me slightly insane. I’d moved from a council estate in Oxford, and within two weeks I knew I needed an outlet, a way to get back into the real world.
Someone else at Trinity said, “Why don’t you come down to the Wild Goose?” So within two weeks of being in Bristol, I found myself there, volunteering pretty much every week.
And how was it?
It was amazing! I loved it. At the end of my first night I chatted to a few people and heard some stories, and I knew it was a place I could serve, and hopefully bring a bit of God’s love to a world that’s hurting. I got to pray with some people, which was an absolute privilege. It’s been pretty much a privilege every night since!
I remember being amazed at the number of people that came in. It was staggering. You hear a lot about homelessness, but until you see a line of people that have queued for an hour and a half to get food, to be warm, to stay dry, the numbers don’t really mean anything to you.
If I’m honest I’ve often seen homeless people in the street and walked past them, at best bought the Big Issue, or given them a sandwich. I think what the Wild Goose has made me realise is that each person has a story to tell, a story that has for whatever reason meant that they’re in the situation they are in. And taking the time to pause, to hear their story, to journey with them a little bit, is key to seeing society change. I think that’s a shift – from just wanting to be a ‘nice person’ who gives a sandwich, to being someone who has time to listen and engage in a credible way with people who are stuck in a position of homelessness.
What have been the challenges?
It’s sometimes really difficult when you can only do so much. For example, there was a guy who was using heroin and was in a really bad way. Just as we were about to start CPR, the ambulance rocked up and managed to give him some naloxone. And within a minute or two of having that injection he came round and was lucid and able to tell the medics that there was no way he wanted another injection, no way he wanted to be going on the ambulance, even though they were very clear that within 15 minutes that injection would wear off and he would potentially become unconscious again, and who knows.
As a Duty Manager, how far do you go? How much can you care? When people are making decisions that are potentially harmful for themselves, it breaks your heart, and you want to do more, but you’re limited by what you’re actually there to do, and people have to own their decisions eventually. That’s tough.
On the flipside, you have these little moments. You get to hear people’s stories and you just feel incredibly privileged to have been let in. Someone made me a leaving card last night, which is incredibly special.
What would you say to someone who’s thinking about volunteering?
Just come and visit, come and spend an evening at the Goose. You can start gently, get a feel for the place, meet the volunteers, and realise that it’s actually not a scary place – it’s an amazing place to be. It’s a place of real joy. It’s a really simple way to serve this city, and to serve our God.
If you’re interested in volunteering at the Wild Goose, please contact our Volunteers Coordinator Steve Smith. He's available on 0117 405 7112 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.