Wandering around the blog world with no map and no direction and I came across Sleep is for the week, Writing Workshop in association with ACTION AID. I’d seen the writing workshop around on other blogs so I was aware of it but it’s not for me because I am not a writer.  I am a woman who blogs.  However, the theme was giving, and I was inspired. I hope it isn’t controversial, it’s something I that’s important to me.

I used to volunteer, to give my time for free, and the person who gained most from that was me.  I’ve volunteered on various projects, in various roles, from mentoring, working with young homeless people, to a management committee role on a women’s project.  I learn new skills, I learn about myself and it opened the doors took me to the work I do now.

For several years I worked with asylum seekers, I often been told what people think of asylum seekers, strangers have given me their opinions whether I’ve been interested or not. I tend to find that while I’ve met many, many asylum seekers read their documents, read Government policy documents and heard the experiences of families and single people seeking asylum, the strangers with the opinion have never met one.

I now work for a community based project. The community in question is one of the poorest 2% in the country.  The team visit people in their own homes and try to give them the skills and support needed to improve their lives. I used to work in the community but now I mostly I sit in the office and sort stuff out.  Once a month I sit with each member of the team and they talk through each person they are working with, so I hear each persons story. The team work with a broad range of people, with refugees, people with mental health issues, people with chaotic lives due to substance misuse.  Adults with learning disabilities, adults with physical disabilities, elderly people.  Some people are simply very poor and struggling to manage.  Most people are poor, most are on benefits, most are unemployed.  People who don’t live in the area tend not to visit the area, I appreciate it’s seen as ‘rough’.  There is not a lot on television that represents their lives and they don’t have much of a voice elsewhere.  When politicians talk about ‘ordinary’ families they don’t mean them.  The Jeremy Kyle show does not represent the poor I see, it represents a caricature that’s sensationalized to create controversy and viewing figures.

I’ve met some scammers, of course, but believe me, I’m not a soft touch and I can be very cynical.  I am not a do gooder and it is difficult to pull the wool over my eyes.

Here’s the giving part.  It’s easy to be judgmental, it’s easy to suggest people need to help themselves. In my experience, the people I come across have been unlucky, they’ve started very poor, or they’ve become ill and lost a lot, we see far too many who’ve experienced domestic abuse or sexual abuse.  How and why they are now is the result of lots of complicated and inter weaving factors, more often not of their own doing.

Sometimes, you can give the most, by thinking a bit more, thinking a bit deeper. Recognising that there for the grace of God go I, or how would it be to walk a mile in their shoes.  Give a smile in the street or give some thought when a newspaper prints a story that might be the whole truth. Or give a reminder to others that they may not know what they are talking about until they’ve been there, seen it, done it.  It’s giving that doesn’t take much but can make a whole sea of change.


  1. Him Up North

    Great piece, Gemma. Very thought provoking. It is sad when I hear people sneering at or deriding those less fortunate. The media loves creating scapegoats and doesn’t miss an opportunity to paint the underclass (for want of a better word) as lazy and/or feckless.

    It’s nice to know there are people out there who give time and effort (and give a damn).

    1. Lesley Bown

      Hi Gemma, really great post. I’ve worked with refugees (not asylum seekers as they have no recourse to public funding which the Daily Mail never reports on). In my work I hardly ever met a scammer, most refugees have fled terrible conflict and situations, in my experience most just want a job, home and education not to ‘scam’ our welfare state. Look forward to reading more about your job. Love Ditzy Mummy

  2. Alexander Residence

    Great post Gemma. I think we need more accounts like this to counteract the huge misconceptions out there. So often people make judgements without the whole picture, thanks for reminding us of that. A great take on giving. It makes me angry that projects like this are threatened.
    And thanks for reminding me about the writing workshop, and you are a great writer.

  3. CaroleHolland

    Sometimes I think I’m even worse than the people with opinions because I don’t ever really stop and think about it long enough to form an opinion of any sort.
    Though, when it comes to it, I believe everyone should be given a chance before you criticise them or put them down. So maybe that’s one thing I do give a lot of the time – the chance to prove everyone else’s ‘opinions’ wrong.

  4. Kate

    We salute you Gemma! My Dads greatest gift to me was teaching me compassion from a very early age. It’s an under-rated and under-used tool but for me is what being human is all about. Thanks for the reminder. x

  5. Headhuntress

    Great post Gemma. I fully agree, it saddens me greatly when I hear people complaining about refugees or asylum seekers as if they are trying to get a free ride. Nobody ever stops to think how desperate a person must be feeling to do something like stow away in an aeroplane wheel or give all their money to a lorry driver to be bunged in the back of a truck for days. I’ve even had to tell my own mother off for using the term in a derogatory manner, she’s not even from England herself and we fought for years for acceptance in the community.

    I am really glad that there are people like you around with compassion, willing to give freely to others. xxxx

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