Swan Lodge residents volunteer at community drop-in

published on 5 Apr 2024

Salvation Army Lifehouse Swan Lodge is providing education and volunteering opportunities for residents to help them move on from homelessness as well as support the local community.  

The church and charity’s hostel in High Street, Sunderland, provides supported accommodation for up to 65 people who are homeless. Part of that support is running courses like English, maths, photography, employment skills and cookery so that when residents move into new, permanent homes they have gained qualifications and confidence. 

Residents are using the skills they have gained by volunteering at a Swan Lodge weekly community lunch drop-in for members of the public from The Salvation Army’s Sunderland Citadel church in nearby Cairo Street. 

One resident Jules, 50, has been helping out in the kitchen and serving food. 

Jules, who became homeless after a relationship broke down a couple of years ago, said: “I love volunteering at Cairo Street. It gives me a sense of purpose and you get to meet new people. 

Swan Lodge community drop-in
Chaplain Julie Judson with church leader Major Meshiel Brown

“There are a lot of courses on offer at Swan Lodge and I’ve tried to do as many as I can. This has built my confidence up and I’m now volunteering in the community and have signed up to do a counselling course.” 

Having moved on from Swan Lodge, Ronnie, 64, now lives in a Salvation Army supported flat nearby. He continues to volunteer by driving the minibus to collect donations from local supermarkets with his good friend Steven, a Swan Lodge resident. 

Ronnie, who also became homeless after a relationship breakdown, said: “I drive most days a week to pick up donations from local supermarkets, and to take items from Swan Lodge to the drop-in community lunch. I drive residents to football matches too. 

“If it wasn’t for the Swan Lodge staff, I wouldn’t be here. Simple as that and now, I don’t see life without them. They knew they needed to get me up off the ground and to help with that, it was the volunteering, being active and busy.” 

The training courses are run by Sonia, owner of Bright Sparks Training, who is also a part time support worker at Swan Lodge.

She said: “A lot of residents have had bad experiences at school so may not have got their GCSEs. We start at entry level then go all the way up to level 2 qualifications, which is equivalent to GCSE, and then do non-accredited courses like photography, digital media and cooking. Some residents have gone onto college and a couple have gone on to university. 

holy island ERV
Ronnie volunteering with Chaplain Julie Judson

“Courses help keep residents busy. They engage with others and meet new people. Even someone who is reluctant to start with a course will do three or four because they see how much it helps them.

“We make it fun, it’s not like being in a classroom. We go on trips for maths and English and apply it to everyday life by looking at things like budgeting. We do a seaside visit in the summer as part of the photography course, and enjoyed a recent trip to Beamish Museum which gave residents an experience many had not had.

“Swan Lodge is more than a place to stay, it is a community and our residents love giving back to others which is why they use the skills they have built up to volunteer, which in turn will help them with future employment." 

Swan Lodge Chaplain Julie Judson, who helps out in the kitchen at Cairo Street alongside Sunderland Citadel church leaders Majors Meshiel and David Brown, agrees. She said: “For our volunteers this kind of opportunity builds self-esteem  and gives people a change of scenery for the day. Not all of them help in the kitchen, some will be delivering food and donations, a lot will help by sitting and chatting with folks, getting to know people and helping to tackle loneliness and isolation in our communities. 

“We get a regular crowd of people who come to the lunch each Thursday. We set it up as a free meal but people make donations. There’s a great atmosphere and people make friends and get to know each other. We have some real characters coming!” 

The community drop in runs every Thursday between 11am and 1pm at Sunderland Citadel Salvation Army in Cairo Street. 


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