In 2015, I moved to Bristol to start my undergraduate studies. It was a shock to the system in many ways: the concept of all-night buses, what felt like the whole world on my doorstep (even if in reality that just meant Sainsbury’s), Freshers’ Week and the amount of poverty and homelessness I saw right in front of me. Every night, someone was asking for my change. I walked past 3 Big Issue vendors every day as I travelled to and from university and did my best to buy one once a week from one of them. Ever since I was little, my mum had bought copies of the Big Issue from the seller in my genteel home town, and instilled in me that it was a genuine way of helping people on the streets.
Last summer, I spent 2 weeks volunteering at The Big Issue Foundation in Bristol. I almost couldn’t believe it was the same city that I was used to living in. I met people properly who I had walked past every day for 2 years, and I learnt about them and their stories. I read up on all sorts of issues like addiction and substance abuse. I learnt all about the services Bristol has to offer to the less fortunate of the city. More than anything, I realised how easy it is for anyone to become homeless: problems spiral out of control, one thing leads to another, and all of a sudden you’re in a bad place, without a roof over your head. It sounds so obvious, but chatting to vendors every day and hearing how perky they were despite everything restored my faith in humanity a bit.
I had every intention of going back to volunteer there once or twice a week this year, not least because the people I met were so great and I have so much to learn from them. However, I underestimated quite how much work I’d have in my final year. When I realised I wouldn’t be able to give up any more of my time, I thought the next best thing would be fundraising for the Foundation instead. I saw the sign-up for the Bristol Sleep Out and decided that would be a suitable challenge: I suffer from Raynaud’s Syndrome (also known as incredibly poor circulation) which would make sleeping out on a chilly March evening even more of a challenge for me!
Most of my friends and family know about my circulation issues, so after a few carefully worded emails and Facebook posts reminding them of these, and many comments about how crazy I was, I managed to absolutely smash the initial fundraising target of £250. I was genuinely astounded by how generous people were: friends I haven’t spoken to in years donated to my cause.
Sadly, due to the Beast from the East, this ended up being cancelled – so in order to fulfil my obligations to all those who had donated, I decided instead to take up their Big Step Challenge. Their target was 10,000 steps a day – which is what we’re meant to do to stay healthy anyway. In order to make it a bit more of a challenge, I decided to up it to 252,000 in 2 weeks, which breaks down to an average of 18,000 a day. Many, many steps. Given that I was spending most of my day working in the library, I had to come up with ingenious plans to rack up my step count. I had many happy late evening walks across Bristol, lots of sweaty dance classes, and found myself coming up with any excuse possible to get active – whether it was taking out the bins, running an errand, or popping over to a friend’s house. Before I knew it, the 2 weeks, and in the end 250,000 steps were up: mission accomplished!
Homelessness in Bristol - and beyond - doesn’t end here though. I feel very lucky to have been able to give something back to the city that I have called home for 3 years, but the problem isn’t over. Taking people off the streets is the easy step: the snowy spell in March showed that beds can be found for the homeless when they need to be. But that’s only solving the symptoms of the problem. Helping people tackle the root causes of homelessness is what really matters, and having seen that first hand, I will always be a huge supporter of the Big Issue Foundation!