School of Law

Student Volunteering: The Whitechapel Mission

Charlotte Evans, LLB Law student: The Whitechapel Mission is a local homeless shelter which, in conjunction with the Queen Mary Pro-Bono Society, encourages students to sign up to help with either a Breakfast or Clothing ‘Challenge’ each month. The shelter, located just 5 minutes from the Mile End campus in Whitechapel, provides food, clothing, showers and basic advice to hundreds of homeless men and women each week, 10% of whom are under the age of 26, and it relies on the support of students to help them do this.

26 March 2015

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This month, I signed up for the ‘Clothing Challenge’. Along with 5 other students, I was tasked with sorting, measuring and hanging a range of clothing items so that they were ready to be distributed amongst those visiting the centre. Given that around 50 people per day use the Mission’s shower facilities, just as many people are looking for a clean change of clothing or are looking to build their wardrobes as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

The sheer volume of clothing donations that the centre receives was apparent as soon as I arrived, with one room literally piled floor to ceiling with plastic bin liners! I therefore set about trying to reduce this by measuring and hanging trousers and shirts upon one of the many rails. Despite the sheer volume of clothes that needed to be sorted, the task was fun and I knew that my help would directly benefit those in need. Whilst talking to one of the centre’s permanent staff I realised the importance of sorting out clothes before you donate them. Many of the clothes have to be thrown away or moved to local clothing banks, either because they are beyond repair or inappropriate for winter weather, expending a lot of extra time and effort for staff.

Although only there for half a day, I could see that this small input would have a big impact and this demonstrated the real value of student volunteers. A Whitechapel Mission Team Challenge is a fantastic opportunity and, having now volunteered a number of times, I would strongly recommend any students interested in charitable work to do the same.

This is a fantastic way to give back to the local homeless community in only a few hours and is also something which demonstrates key employability skills, such as team work, and a real understanding of the fundamental role charities face in tackling homelessness.