Conversations with… Emma from Streetreads (Subject: Volunteering and Homelessness)

Through writing this blog and sharing my work on social media, I have been introduced to many wonderful people, charities and organisations that work every day to make the world a little better, a little kinder. A prime example of one of these organisations is Streetreads.

Streetreads has a simple but significant goal – to provide books to the homeless. This small act of kindness carries with it so much meaning. It shows homeless people that they aren’t forgotten, that they are valued, that they deserve the same comforts as everyone else.

This week I interviewed Emma, a Streetreads volunteer, to find out more about this charity and the incredible work that they do.

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How did you first become involved with Streetreads?

Before Simon Community Scotland got involved in Streetreads, it was run by Rachel Cowan who is known around Edinburgh as ‘the bookwumman’. She put out a call on social media for volunteers and to start with there were just 3 or 4 of us. Tasks were split between us and my main role was to help Rachel pick the books for homeless readers at Soul Food at St.Paul’s and St.George’s. When Simon Community Scotland and Streetwork became involved, I continued to volunteer.

What drew you to working with Streetreads?

It’s a simple and truthful ethos that books are a place of solace in a hard world. That really appealed to me. It had enormous potential, but at its heart, it would always be about the small act of love which is the gift of a book.

I think that it’s the core value of Streetreads which is, like you say, a small act of love that makes it a really special organisation. What does a typical day of volunteering look like?

I pack boxes of books, tailoring the selection to match the readership at each venue. For example, there’s a more of an even split of male and female readers at the Food Banks, whilst the Care Shelters have a largely male audience. I try to include some magazines and graphic novels for less confident readers, some reading glasses for those who might need them, with some foreign books and sometimes children’s books in there too. If there have been any requests for specific books, I’ll put them to one side to give to a named reader. If there have been any books donated, I’ll catalogue them on the database and re-shelve any returned books to our library – alphabetically by genre, so that it makes future book selection easier.

It sounds like a lot of thought goes into selecting the books you hand out and I can imagine that this level of attention to detail really makes an impact. How has Streetreads helped the homeless people that you hand out books to?

It shows them that somebody cares – somebody cares enough to remember what types of books you might like and that you have a favourite author and that they’ve got a new book out. Somebody cares enough to give you something you can lose yourself in for a few hours. Somebody cares enough to know that books are as important to you now and they were before you found yourself on the streets.

Working for such a selfless and positive organisation must be incredibly rewarding. What has been the most fulfilling part of your role?

I’m not sure anything will beat the time when I handed over a book that one of our readers had specifically requested and which we had bought in for him and he literally danced with joy.

Even in 2019, there is still a level of stigma around homelessness. What do you wish people knew about homelessness that they perhaps might not?

Every homeless person has a story to tell and something to teach.

Why do you think it is important for everyone to have access to books, storytelling and inspirational stories?

Because books take you places, they teach you things, they challenge your views of the world, they make you laugh, they make you cry and they’ll always be yours.

If I wanted to become involved with or support Streetreads, what would I have to do?

Call Kat Lucas. Call the Streetwork office on 0131 344 0825. Call into 18 South Bridge, Edinburgh. Just call.

Volunteering has obviously had an incredibly positive impact on you. What would you say to someone who is considering taking up a volunteering role but is unsure about making that commitment?

Try to volunteer for something you’re genuinely passionate about and that best utilises your skills, otherwise you’ll come to see it simply as an act of charity, rather than something which enriches you too. Do a bit of research, start small and don’t over-commit until you find a role that you really look forward to doing each week/fortnight/month.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?

Do what is right, not what is easy.

To find out more about Streetreads and the incredible work that they do, click here

You can also follow Streetreads on Twitter at @streetreads

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