Volunteering your time to a good cause is one of the best gifts you can give. Phil Cowan salutes some of the local initiatives that run on people power.
The last couple of years have been challenging for us all, but if anything positive has emerged from the pandemic, it is the remarkable capacity people have shown to step up and help others.
Primrose Hill Community Association
Primrose Hill Community Association (PHCA) has existed for over forty years serving the people of this neighbourhood in many ways including running clubs, film showings, talks, a monthly bar, village discos, Burns Night parties – and even a magazine! You name it, they’ve done it!
The most recent project is Neighbourhood Nosh, which was set up during the pandemic specifically to help the isolated or vulnerable by delivering nutritious meals and snacks twice a week straight to people’s doors. It has been a great success thanks to the dedication of the team including the legendary chef Jean-Christophe Slowik, who’s been cooking up a storm with ingredients donated by our fantastic local businesses. This and other PHCA initiatives will welcome new volunteers with open arms, so get signing up! Get in touch at [email protected]
Primrose Hill Community Library
Primrose Hill Community Library (PHCL) shares close ties with the PHCA and remains open thanks to a successful community campaign. It is now run by volunteers and is a shining example of how to save an important community resource.
On the reception desk the day of my visit was Ronwen Emerson, who set out her reasons for volunteering: “I just love helping here and feeling useful. It’s so important that people and especially children are given the opportunity to experience the joys of reading in a friendly and fun environment. I like the idea that I’m hopefully giving something back to the community when I come here to do the shifts, but I do take away a lot of pleasure from being part of it. It is truly mutually beneficial!” The Library has thrived over recent years and continues to provide a wide range of services and activities for an ever-growing body of patrons.
Primrose Hill Charity Shops
We have three outstanding charity shops on our high street which sell a great selection of clothing and accessories for adults and kids. Fara, Shelter Boutique and Mary’s Living & Giving support international charities through their sales, but they are also community hubs and put on events which are almost exclusively reliant on volunteer enthusiasm.
Tim Kirkpatrick at Mary’s Living & Giving (founded by Mary Portas in 2013) told me: “It has been great to help out here. Apart from the obvious charitable benefits, the shop also provides a great interface for neighbours to mix together. Add to that the recycling nature of the project and in my book it’s a win, win, win situation!”
“I like the idea that I’m hopefully giving something back to the community when I come here to do the shifts.”
Transition Primrose Hill
Transition Primrose Hill was set up by Doro Marden and is run by a small but tightly-knit group of volunteers that aim to promote awareness of sustainable living and building local ecological resilience. While the subject of our environment and climate is a serious one, Transition Primrose Hill always hopes to respond in an engaging way and have some fun with it. Recent local initiatives have included planting fruit trees on the high street, Easter egg hunts to promote local business, pub crawls, air quality talks and seminars.
Streets Kitchen homeless outreach is a grassroots organisation set up to benefit those who are experiencing homelessness or rough sleeping by providing great food, hot drinks and support in a non-judgemental space. Our nearest hub outside Camden Town tube station is a little off the Primrose Hill track, but the project has very strong ties to our area through its regular volunteers.
I spoke with Inga Rasmussen about her experiences volunteering at Streets Kitchen: “After the initial introduction and my first shift on a warm spring Friday evening I was hooked. We are helping our guests with one of the most basic needs in life: access to food and drinks. We always try to have a chat, which I believe is so important. Who doesn’t love to have someone, who takes the time to listen to what you have to say? It makes me so happy to provide this service – and fills me with pride to be surrounded by fellow volunteers, who also care about people. We would love for more volunteers to join us, so please come along, and give it a go.” Well, that is rather a glowing review for Streets Kitchen. Get involved!
For those who like their volunteering with an aquatic flavour, there is the Pirate Castle down on the Regents Canal. Founded in the 1970s, this project introduces children to the fun of kayaking and other water activities as well as teaching safety in that environment. You won’t be able to miss HQ on Oval Road as it certainly lives up to its name!
Crisis at Christmas
Crisis at Christmas has been serving homeless communities across the UK for decades and provides a year-round resource, running out of daycare centres and other locations. They hope to extend the branch of friendship and practical support for those in need over the festive season and beyond. Although operations have been scaled back and adapted over the last two years, there are still plenty of opportunities to help out locally this yuletide. Just contact them through their website to find out what you can do!
St Mary’s Youth Outreach project
St Mary’s Youth Outreach project, Mary’s, is a hugely successful community initiative that helps the younger members of our community who need support find purpose and hope in their lives. The activities are aimed at widening participation in our society through an imaginative range of programmes.
The Chalk Farm Food Bank
The Chalk Farm Food Bank operates out of the Baptist Church on Berkley Road, Primrose Hill every Thursday. This sadly necessary service providing food and other essentials to those in need is on offer through referral. The number of food banks across the UK has burgeoned over recent years, and until we can create a fairer, more just society, volunteers will be needed. If you’re interested in joining them, contact them via their website.
All Dogs Matter
Finally, we come to All Dogs Matter. Although not based in Primrose Hill. a walk around the park will guarantee plenty of poochie meetings with beneficiaries of the charity (maybe even with my own two little mutt-mates!). I asked Simon Happily, a local volunteer, for his thoughts. “I first met the All Dogs Matter team when I was compering the big Pup Aid dog shows in Primrose Hill park. Pup Aid drew attention to puppy farming and produced Lucy’s Law, which has made the cruel trade illegal, although sadly not eradicated it. My rescue dog came from ADM and I’ve volunteered at many of the registered charity’s events since. I have met so many lovely people through its events and it’s always great to bump into some of them walking in Primrose Hill and Regents Park.”
Well, that’s it, folks. A final thought for this festive season: the best gift you can possibly give is the one you will receive back through your volunteering. I can assure you that there is absolutely nothing better underneath that Christmas tree than the reward of supporting your community.
Merry Christmas, everybody!