Sarah started volunteering with us in September 2021, and one year on she has been on quite the journey!
Read the interview below to hear her REfUSE story, and keep reading to the end to find out how to get involved yourself!
Tell me what you knew about REfUSE before you started volunteering?
Sarah – “All I knew about this place was a total misconception of what it is, I assumed it was just for people who had no money and who were homeless. Not for everybody.“
What did life look like before you started volunteering with us?
“My son had just started full time school, so I was just in the house, all day every day all day on my own not doing anything. Coming here made me start to leave the house again.“
How did you first hear about REfUSE?
“It was through my sister who had been in touch with the cafe about putting some of her clients through for work experience. But after hearing about it, she thought it might be something that might be good me too.“
When she first told you about it, what was your initial reaction?
“Because of my misconception of the place. It was through talking to her I realised I was actually an inclusive place for everyone. I thought it was for people who were having a hard time, not just for somebody who sat in the house every day and wanted to make something of their life.“
What were your expectations for your first couple of volunteer shifts?
“I thought I would probably try to hide away in the warehouse, not Front of House and not kitchen.“
What volunteering did you initially sign up to?
“Warehouse or washing dishes. But on my first shift I was asked if I would like to try out the kitchen.“
On the day, when you were asked if you would like to try the kitchen what went through your head?
“I was nervous, because I don’t cook a lot at home, but from my first shift I fell in love with the kitchen.“
So you started as a bronze level volunteer and where did you go from there?
“I was volunteering on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the kitchen and I moved up to the silver quite quickly because I was in so often. As time progressed there were times we were short and I offered to train as a gold volunteer and then after that a Kitchen Lead. I think all of that happened in the space of 3 months! I just loved the challenge of it, not knowing what you might make or what the customers might think.“
Have you got any favourite memories from the kitchen?
“Just the times where we get all of the food for the day out onto the benches, and look at it and think “what will we do with all of this” and then miraculously you have a lunch menu ready to go! It just comes from nowhere!“
Once you’d started kitchen leading, how did it feel looking back at where you’d come from?
“Scary, I did find it hard at first to feel like I could have authority, but that’s been a big learning lesson for me. The whole atmosphere, the support, the support I’ve had for me and my kids has been amazing. The importance of getting out of the house is so overlooked.”
What skills do you think you’ve gained as a kitchen lead?
“How to work with lots of different people, cooking with different foods, some that I’d never even dreamed of getting my hands on. How sometimes a few ingredients can make a huge difference to a meal. But also just how much food is wasted every day.“
And what changes can you see in yourself since starting volunteering?
“From when I started to becoming a kitchen lead it took me a long time to believe in myself, but now I do, I know that I can do it. It has built my confidence and my self belief a lot.“
You then started taking on some paid shifts as part of our catering team, how did you find that?
“In October last year I had my first Conscious Kitchen job at a wedding, it was scary, it was something completely different and a different kind of pressure but I actually thrived under it.”
So you were kitchen lead for a while and then we put out a job advert for an Assistant Cafe Manager. What happened next?
“While I was volunteering in the kitchen, quite often it would get quiet in the afternoon and they would be short in Front of House, so I’d jump out and during that time I learnt lots of Front of House and dishwash skills. Then I started doing full day volunteering days to see how things run in the Front of House in a full day. It can be chaotic but so rewarding at the same time, and then when the job advert came up I took the plunge and went for it. I wanted it so much, but I didn’t believe I would ever get it.“
So you put your name into the hat, leading up to the interview how were you preparing behind the scenes?
“I did more volunteering, I did a Hospitality Management course online, I signed up to start an online safeguarding course because I knew we work with a lot of vulnerable people. I’m also signed up to start a Catering Management course soon.“
So you were doing lots of prep behind the scenes that we didn’t know about, and you ended up getting the job! How did that feel?
“I was speechless, I was in shock, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or jump up and down when I found out.“
If you were to tell the past you, stuck at home struggling to leave the house, one thing what would it be?
“Believe in yourself. You can do it. You’re better than what you might think.“
Would you like to give volunteering a try? We’re always looking for more members to join our volunteer community, especially in our kitchen!
To find out more, click here to email our volunteer coordinator. Please note we run new volunteer information nights once a month and they get booked up quickly, so get your name is as soon as you can to express an interest!