An interview with Jonny, our BNS Coordinator

After 4 years at Boaz, our Night Shelter Coordinator Jonny is moving on to a fresh challenge. We’ve been able to catch up with him to hear about his time as Boaz’s Night Shelter Coordinator and what he’ll be doing next.

You’ve coordinated the Boaz night shelter (BNS) for the last 4 seasons- tell us what being night shelter coordinator actually means!

It’s a lot, that’s for sure! In three days’ work there’s plenty to cover but there’s tremendous variety. To give you a brief idea, it involves recruiting and then visiting all the night shelter venues several times throughout the season, planning and delivering volunteer training, meeting with the men who stay in the shelter and getting to know them as well as signposting to the appropriate services, meeting regularly with the wonderful venue coordinators, keeping on top of the admin (although Lisa – our Office and Reception Manager – has been especially brilliant at that over the past couple of seasons), writing reports, updating policies, keeping an eye on the budget, meeting with other services, visiting other night shelters, replacing essential items like bedding and much more that crops up randomly!

What have been your highlights over the last 4 winter seasons?

Obviously there are too many to put into a neat paragraph here! Getting to know the men who stay with us as well as the volunteers is central and from those relationships spring the highlights.

Celebrating Chinese New Year at one venue was unique, and an impromptu penalty shoot-out at another venue was a great laugh. The honour of hearing some of the stories of the men staying never loses its impact. There’s the privilege of having someone trust you enough to stay with them whilst they’re checked over in A&E at 1am, and continuing to get to know the men in a different way once they move in to Boaz accommodation. Seeing the odd one or two come through the BNS into Boaz accommodation and then get their refugee status gives such hope and without doubt getting to know some remarkable volunteers who continue to genuinely astound me in their commitment to providing beautiful hospitality year-in year-out.

Through our BNS volunteer celebration event at the end of the past two seasons , we’ve tried  say ‘thank you’ in a really small way for what amounts to hundreds of miles driven, thousands of meals cooked and beds made for over 50 destitute asylum seeking and refugee men for over half the year. Remarkable.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

We’re all involved and interested in this work because there is a desperate need for support and accommodation for those left destitute by the asylum process. So, straight off, working with people at different stages of the asylum system and seeing the way that people can be treated is a constant challenge. As a result of that broken system, it’s really difficult at the sharp end of providing accommodation in the way Boaz does, alongside hundreds of volunteers though our night shelter. When someone turns up to stay who isn’t on the list or another individual excludes himself through his actions and behaviour- that always hits you in the heart. It is cold comfort to know it’s likely not to be his first night on the street or someone’s couch when you turn him away or, on very rare occasions, have to ban him. But weighing up the potential damage or risks is the reality of front line work such as this. You pray of course and try and look after yourself, but staring at the ceiling whilst lying in bed does occur from time to time.

What would be the one thing you would want to say to people who are thinking of getting involved in Boaz night shelters?

It’s not as risky as you might think! That’s a question I get asked frequently at training for new volunteers and I understand where it comes from, but the men who stay are genuinely some of the funniest, most thoughtful, intelligent and caring people I’ve ever met. I’d like to think that if I was fleeing what these men have that I’d get a welcome from a group of people in another country who saw me as a human with a family, future plans, a desire for safety and an interest in life beyond just my immediate circumstances. You may not speak Farsi, Arabic or any of the number of other languages heard at the Boaz Night Shelter but it’s amazing what a willingness to serve, offer excellent hospitality and see people as more than ‘just’ asylum seekers can do.  I started as an inexperienced volunteer with a desire to do something, anything, for those seeking sanctuary in this country and nearly seven years after first staying over at my church I feel proud to have worked alongside some cracking individuals and been involved in offering some level of hope to men who deserve far more than the destitution provided to them in this country.

If you are interested in getting involved in our night shelters next season, e-mail – this is a brilliant chance to show a loving welcome to people who are often left at the bottom of the pile in our society.

And finally… after 4 seasons with us, you’re moving on to a really exciting new role. Tell us a bit more about it and what you’ll be doing?

I’ll be starting work for PAPYRUS who are based in Warrington but my role will be covering the north west. I’ll be delivering training on suicide prevention and self-care promotion in under 35s as well as working with volunteers who run projects across the region. Mental health is obviously a huge area and is an everyday concern for many Boaz clients. There is a knock-on effect at times for those working in the area of asylum too and so this is a topic I’ve been thinking more and more about over the past few years. I’m looking forward to getting started and being involved in the area of breaking the stigma around this issue.

We are so grateful for everything Jonny has done during his time at Boaz- not only as night shelter coordinator but also the additional responsibilities he has taken on including supporting clients, helping to review and improve our shared housing, and supporting the spiritual development of our team. Go well Jonny- we’re going to miss you!

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