Post by Annie Waddington-Feather, Trustee.
We were deeply honoured to be formally presented with the Queens Award for Voluntary Service on Monday, 27 July.
Usually the Lord-Lieutenant of Shropshire presents the Award to recipient organisations at individual events, but due to the pandemic, this year a joint presentation ceremony was made to the five Shropshire recipients.
Fifteen of us joined representatives from the four other recipient organisations at the Cavalier Centre, home to the Perry Riding for the Disabled. The venue was chosen because it was large enough to meet all responsibilities and regulations towards social distancing.
At the event, Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of Shropshire Mrs Anna Turner JP said, the award is known as the MBE for voluntary groups, and all the recipients have played a significant part in improving the lives of Shropshire Residents.
This is was a very proud moment in the history of the Ark, and our team of 60 or so hugely dedicated volunteers, and indeed all the volunteers before them, were acknowledged with the following group citation read out at the event:
The Shrewsbury Ark was formed in 2008 following the closure of the night shelter and in response to the growing number of homeless people in Shrewsbury. It has provided a, warm welcome, hot food, showers, laundry facilities, a friendly non-judgemental ear, respite from cold, inclement weather and an environment where users feel truly supported. In the last year alone, they have dealt with over 400 people and helped 150into some form of accommodation.
Homelessness is an intractable and complex issue; drug and alcohol addiction, anger management and mental health being just three of these. The highly committed, reliable volunteers who staff The Ark each day never know which or how many of these issues they will face as they open the doors each morning.
It is undoubtedly often a very stressful and unpredictable environment but the volunteers still turn up every day despite the challenges thrown at them, and provide a service of vital importance; they do so with huge empathy and understanding. They know homelessness is generally not a lifestyle choice but rather the result of circumstances, many hit rock bottom and require the utmost patience and consistent care; qualities found in abundance in The Ark’s volunteers.
As one trustee put it, “when they are ready, we give them opportunities to build self-confidence and develop their potential. We are here when perhaps no-one else is, and with the help of our supporters, we always will be.”
The many testimonials from those who have been helped turn their lives around, clearly show that the volunteers of The Ark are doing an amazing job, often in the face of huge adversity.
As one user said, “They don’t make you jump through hoops, like many other places, if you’re homeless or in need, you’re welcome; they provide anyone suffering from poverty, mental health problems or whatever with a nice warm haven for food and drink-.even on Christmas day. The volunteers are here because they want to be, they have genuine feelings for homeless people.”
Volunteers will turn their hand to cooking, cleaning, form filling, arranging job centre or employment interviews or simply being a friendly ear when someone needs to talk. This selfless group of dedicated volunteers make such a difference to those often with little hope, by going the extra mile, believing people deserve not just a second or third but a fourth or fifth chance; because rebuilding self-confidence takes time and patience. The tenacity of the volunteers is inspirational.
In recent years The Ark has become a key partner for the local authority, taking the lead role in the “Severe weather protocol”, providing temporary beds in The Ark when temperatures drop. They also help with provision of railway tickets and can respond quickly to requests from Shropshire Council, understanding that homeless people need an immediate response, rather than the bureaucracy under which Councils have to work.
Additionally, they work with other partner bodies - both statutory and voluntary - from mental health specialists to Street Pastors and recognising the importance of providing joined-up services; working tirelessly to address the complex needs of the homeless on a daily basis.
The Ark’s volunteers are an extremely well organised, dedicated and highly professional in their approach: whatever is thrown at them, demonstrating resilience and fortitude. The work of the Ark and the unstinting generosity of its volunteers are very well known locally: they have helped raised awareness of homelessness and its underlying issues through their unstinting efforts. They are highly deserving of a Queens Award for Voluntary Service.
Thank you to our wonderful volunteer Brea Wilde and Ian Somervaille, volunteer trustee treasurer for accepting the crystal trophy and a formal certificate award on all our behalf.
It was a special night for all, and our congratulations got to the four other immensely deserving recipient volunteer organisations: Food Bank Plus in Shrewsbury, The Friends of Telford Town Park, Shrewsbury-based Cedar (Community Education in Death Awareness & Resources) and Newport and District Agricultural Society.