Many of us relish the chance to relax at the end of the week, and enjoy pleasant activities with friends and family. But Sundays can be long and lonely days for those who barely have enough money to feed themselves, let alone for leisure activities. Although various organisations such as the Archer Project serve the homeless and vulnerable in Sheffield during the week, these are typically closed on Sunday. Hence, nearly 25 years ago, The Sunday Centre was set up by group of volunteers to fill this ‘hungry gap’ in the week.

Every Sunday at 12.30pm, volunteers arrive and transform the upper room of Victoria Hall Methodist Church into a welcoming refuge. At 1.30pm, the doors open for our guests. Anyone, regardless of colour, race, religion or nationality, is invited to attend. We offer the chance to enjoy a hot drink with biscuits or soup, read newspapers and books, play board games, enjoy a game of pool or simply sit and chat with one another and the volunteers. In winter, just being able to escape the cold and wet is appreciated.

Meanwhile, the kitchen team work busily to prepare a hot, two-course lunch, served at 3pm. Our chefs strive to prepare hearty and nutritious meals, which are always followed by a treat, with ginger cake and custard being a particular favourite. For many of our guests, this will be the only proper meal they will eat that day. Although preparing mass meals is hard work, there is great camaraderie in the kitchen. “I always get a really nice feeling after I’ve worked here,” says Anna, one of the chefs. “It inspires me because you know you’re helping somebody.”

With its distinctly welcoming atmosphere, it’s not surprising that many of our guests and volunteers have been attending The Sunday Centre regularly for several years. Besides the meal, our guests, many of whom suffer from social isolation, appreciate the opportunity to meet with friends and be listened to without judgement. “It’s an important thing, especially if you’re single,” says Pete, a frequent guest. “Most of us have been coming for a number of years.” Danielle, another regular guest, agrees: “I come because I have friends here and because of the friendly staff,” she says, “It’s friendly, cheerful… If you’re in a down mood, it cheers you up.”

Our volunteers also benefit from the sessions. Long-standing volunteer Pete Darwin says, “It teaches you life skills of understanding people and you build up friendships.” Like our guests, our volunteers come from all backgrounds, countries and races, and we have a thriving group of students from both Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield.

“I like the fact that our volunteers are so diverse, in their ethnicities, ages,” says Mohammed, one of our current volunteer coordinators. “I thoroughly enjoy my role as shift leader and I like the fact that we help the people most in need in society.” Another appealing aspect about volunteering for The Sunday Centre is its open and democratic nature. The project is overseen by an elected committee, but everyone is invited to the monthly meetings to share ideas and suggest improvements.

Friendships aside, The Sunday Centre plays an active role in meeting the physical needs of the most vulnerable people in Sheffield. “The proof that our work is needed is the number we feed each week – around 65 to 70 people every week,” says Steve Clark, our current chair. But despite this, “We get no Council or other funding and everything we spend has to be raised by volunteers and friends of the project – so money is always a worry.”

Nevertheless, we continue to look for new ways we can care for our guests. We often receive donations of bread and recently we’ve started to purchase fruit and other items to prepare food parcels to give out at the end of our sessions. “This means that we can provide a second meal, even after we’ve closed for the day,” says Steve. We are also working to improve our information resources, so that we can guide our guests towards services we don’t provide ourselves.

Sundays wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t meet my friends at Victoria Hall. Being filled with that sense of fellowship and appreciated service is truly the best way to begin the new week.

sundaycentre@hotmail.co.uk

Caroline Wood