Susan's Story

Susan's Story

Events come full circle - Interview with Susan Rouse, Volunteer and Supporter

Susan began volunteering with Alabaré over 15 years ago in 2006 after reading an article titled “A Day in the Life of a Volunteer.”

At the time she was self-employed part-time, the children needed her less and every Monday she would spend the day just muddling around at home doing domestic duties around the house.  She realised she had the capacity to do something else and so having already heard of Alabaré through her Church she got in touch.

In the article she had read, the volunteer cooked and although untrained Susan knew she enjoyed cooking and had already done some bulk cookery in her days as a student.  Although having time and skill was one reason for getting involved Susan also knew that she had a comfortable home life and that her home really mattered to her. It always had.  Even if staying somewhere for a short while she would always seek to make her space feel homely and welcoming. The article had just put the thought into action. 

Realising that the Alabaré ethos was about more than just providing a physical home, but about offering support, it was an obvious choice.

So, with little idea of what was involved, and some naivety and trepidation Susan embarked on her own “Life as a Volunteer.”  The Drop-In Centre is a busy place with lots of people coming into receive a hot meal, shower and possibly advice.  She soon realised that while a welcoming smile went a long way and helps to make life better it is not all that simple.  There are many steps people can take forward but lots more steps they can go back and if people’s problems were that simple to solve, they would not have found problems and challenges in the first place.  Soon though Susan would find it particularly nice when people popped in to just to say hello and to let everyone know that they had found work and moved on somewhere. Brilliant.

Whilst largely cooking for the Drop-In Centre, Susan has also helped at a sewing group and an art group.  This provided a peaceful environment and gave people the chance to focus and do something creative while sharing ideas over tea and biscuits.  A place where lovely things happened.  Calming and very interesting, Susan adds, “You just never know, do you? Somebody sits down, they pick up a pencil and people create all kinds of things. Some brilliant stuff is often produced, it was really interesting.”

Susan really enjoys the challenge of working at Alabaré Place, Alabaré’s home for homeless people based in Salisbury, and although it is not difficult, she really loves the practical aspect, the ready, steady cook thing of going in and finding sometimes, a slightly random collection of donated perishable items, that need to be turned into a meal.

“That is quite interesting, and often I find we think what are we going to do with this? The kitchen is well set up and it is nice when others want to get involved.  The work is varied, not just because of the produce but also because of the people.  Helping others to produce something delicious is always rewarding.

Obviously, not everyone likes what you have cooked, and many are not always that thankful, but you must remember that people’s lives are difficult.  It’s never nice to overhear unpleasant things or see people becoming aggressive but the staff are amazing, and they always manage to handle the situation.”

We are grateful that Susan decided to continue to volunteer with us throughout lockdown and although she has still enjoyed the cookery, she has missed the interaction with staff and clients as social distancing measures had to be put in place and adhered to. Over the years Susan has witnessed firsthand the impact the Drop-In Centre and Alabaré has on people’s lives.

“The Drop-In Centre at Alabaré Place can often be the first time someone comes into contact with Alabaré and the help on offer.  They simply come to the hatch to get a drink and often do not really know what help is available to them in the short term with perhaps food, drink, showers or laundry but also in the longer term.  I provide a drink and a welcoming smile before a member of the team sits with them and patiently and unjudgementally talks to them and guides them through the process. To arrive in and find that level of help must be an incredible relief.  The one thing I always take away with me is how it feels some people just seem to have the odds stacked up against them often before they are born.  Lots of people think that homeless people are homeless due to addictions to drugs and alcohol, but I always say whilst that is often the immediate problem you often need to go back quite a few steps to find the reason.


I would like to think that if the worst happened to me that I have a network of people who have a spare room, money, advice, who may become my rock but that is not the case for everyone. It’s our family, friends and situations that bring us to where we are.”

After reading Susan’s story if there are people who have thought about getting involved with volunteering either at Alabaré or any number of other opportunities Susan would like to say, “You do need to go into this with your eyes wide open. You do not see instant results and thanks is not always forthcoming.  Change is not easy to achieve and indeed not everyone wants to change. However, volunteering is very rewarding and if you can help one person, make one person smile then that is good.  It has also helped me to and enabled me to get out and about meeting different people.  It’s not a selfless act on my part as I love being with people and I find it interesting and enjoyable.  I will certainly carry on until somebody pulls me aside and tells me my cooking’s terrible!”

So rather like the article that inspired Susan to begin volunteering in the first place, we hope this article may inspire others; so events come full circle.

Words: Rachel Houston
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