Reflections for Volunteers’ Week 2019

It’s Volunteers’ Week in the UK this week, a chance to celebrate our volunteers who are the beating pulse of ToastLoveCoffee, and also an opportunity to reflect on what I have learned about volunteering, what it means and how it has helped create something truly exceptional in Harehills.

Firstly, a massive, deep, heartfelt THANK YOU to every single person who has given their time, their skills, their passion and themselves wholeheartedly to this venture. From humble beginnings ( a few folding chairs and tables, an urn and some coffee ), to a fully operational independent high street cafe on 13 Harehills Road, those people have created ToastLoveCoffee. They have created an inclusive, welcoming space where people leave feeling a little better, a little more connected, a little happier and a whole lot more human.

But let me be clear: this is not about extolling the virtues of giving for free; of showing gratitude for the tremendous 1500+ volunteer hours clocked up since we opened in December 2018 (that’s a staggering figure though, isn’t it?!).

It goes much much deeper than that.

What I have learned is that it’s not just the customers who carry on their day feeling a whole lot more human after being at TLC; it’s the volunteers too.

Volunteering creates a truly equal playing field: Value is not equated to the amount of money taken home by individuals, or credited to the team member who made the most sales on their shift. By removing the financial representation of value, it creates unlimited genuine valuing of each other. Everyone gives, and everyone receives, in totally different, yet totally equal, ways.

I can’t go into detail about some of our volunteers’ stories – however much I’d love to share, as they’re so feelgood! – as it’s their’s to share, not mine. You’ll just have to trust me on this one; each and every person who gives to TLC – from the driver who routinely picks up food from local supermarkets, to the people who bake, cook, create documents and logos, patiently explain how to get online, clean the toilets, serve the food, make the coffee, buy the milk, patiently demonstrate knitting, share a joke, create a music video, explain a joke, clear a table, paint a wall – is invaluable. Their contribution is unique, beautiful and essential. Which makes TLC unique, beautiful and essential.

It is truly humbling to know also how much TLC has helped people get their lives back together. TLC provides routine, socialising, feeling valued, feeling part of wider society, connections, teamwork, witnessing others’ hardships, opportunity. We know that however much our amazing volunteers give, they also get back.

And it is that equality which permeates throughout ToastLoveCoffee and makes it the truly exceptional place that it is, not just at 13 Harehills Road, but on the Facebook page, in the regular walking group, tech support group, promotion table at LUSH, when people bump into each other in the street, when strangers spark up a conversation on the bus. TLC – it’s so much more than just a cafe, it’s the beating heart of an open inclusive community where everyone is welcome and valued, powered by volunteers.

 

 

published by Anna Dyson
Founder and Director of ToastLoveCoffee. CEO of Dyson family, Roundhay (Leeds) branch which involves a huge array of skills impossible to imagine or articulate! Formerly, Jewish educator and community professional.
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