For almost 5 years I have been Chair of the Management Committee of Bradford Nightstop, a small local charity that provides emergency accommodation to homeless young people in the homes of volunteer hosts. We have 4 part-time staff and about 60 volunteers.
I first started volunteering for Bradford Nightstop about 8 years ago when I moved to the North. I wanted to volunteer for a homelessness charity because I became perilously close to being homeless myself at the end of a relationship, now a distant memory.
The fact that Bradford Nightstop was a charity for young people interested me as well because I had always spent time with kids – my mother was a childminder and I am in the middle of about 25 first cousins, the product of a typical Irish family. After university and my MA I fell into teaching without quite thinking about it and enjoyed it for a time. I taught A-level students here in the UK but eventually could no longer see my future in teaching and fancied a change, so my partner and I moved North (thankfully – one of our better decisions).
Until some point in my mid-thirties I was quite convinced that I wanted children myself, as was my partner, and we considered our options as a same-sex couple, looking into legalities of different possible choices. I’m not sure what changed – the only thing I am certain of is that one day we were equally convinced that actually, we’d rather have holidays than kids of our own.
However, just because I am one-half of a childfree couple does not mean I am not interested in young people or their wellbeing. Many childfree women work in nurturing and caring professions concerned with providing a better future for kids. What is more, they are good at it.
‘Nightstop‘ is based on a very simple premise – a young person aged 16-25 presents at a referring agency, and they call our referral line after doing a risk assessment to make sure the young person is suitable for the scheme. Our volunteer checks availability, books a host, safe waiting and a volunteer driver and the young person makes their way to a safe place. Sometimes this can be a library or other safe public place such as a police station, but often this can be the home of a volunteer who doesn’t offer an overnight bed but is willing to welcome young people earlier in the day than a host can be available. A volunteer driver or taxi will then pick the young person up that evening and take them to their overnight host’s home, where they will be offered a hot meal, a bath or shower, clean clothes and toiletries and the chance to do laundry if needed. They will also have a clean, safe bed in their own room for that night. The following day they are offered breakfast, their bus fare back to the referring agency to find them a longer-term solution to their housing issues, some food for the road and perhaps a hat and before they get sorted.
Bradford Nightstop also delivers preventative education to schools and youth groups in the area to ensure that young people are made aware of the dangers of rough sleeping and can learn how to access services that mean they don’t have to spend even one night on the streets.
Volunteers can operate in a number of roles – we have telephone contact people who take referrals, safe waiting hosts, volunteer drivers, overnight hosts, and mobile phone holders who are available for 24-hour support. We also have volunteers who help in the office, at recruitment events or fundraisers, and of course, we also have the Management Committee.
My role on the Management Committee is largely that of chairing, signing the occasional document or cheque, chairing the MC meetings which happen every 2 months – most of the real work is done by the MC as a whole, so chairing is not a huge responsibility. We are, however, a very active committee, rather than being a board of trustees, and are involved in the management of the project at every level. The majority of the work I do takes place on the MC subgroups, such as the policy subcommittee and individual projects or funding bids. I’m glad to have some contact with young people in the role of ‘volunteer-driver’ and since we have recently moved to a bigger house, am looking forward to training as a host in the near future. Overall, I donate several hours a week of my time to Nightstop.
Bradford Nightstop recently hit a big milestone and provided its 10,000th bed-night.
Considering the risks of rough sleeping and the high mortality rate among homeless people, this is a phenomenal achievement.
I am very proud to be a part of this amazing charity – which recently celebrated its 23rd birthday – and the work we do to keep young people safe. We’re always looking for ways to improve so there’s always plenty to do and sadly the need for the service is showing no signs of diminishing.
As well as being a way for me to give something to the community, volunteering for Nightstop has allowed me to grow and develop my skills and abilities, and I have found the experience to be rewarding in tangible as well as emotional ways. I have made lifelong friends through my time volunteering, and I get a real kick out of knowing that in my own way, I have helped to keep a young person safe for one night at a time.
If you’re interested in finding out more about what we do, please have a look at our short films on YouTube