Stephanie Denning is an ESRC-funded Human Geography PhD student at the University of Bristol, whose study explores how and why people volunteer in social action/charity work, and how that is inspired by a faith ethos. As part of her research she is running a ‘Lunch Kitchen‘ to respond to school children’s ‘holiday hunger’ – when free school meals are not available in the school holidays some children or their parents will not have enough (nutritional) food. Read more about her theoretical and participatory research project below…
A PhD on faith-based social action? How volunteers are responding to the lack of free school meals in the holidays
I co-ordinate one Lunch Kitchen at a church within an area which is in the top 10 per cent of deprived places in the UK. Children from the local area come for play time and a free hot and healthy meal in the school holidays.
There is no religious requirement for children or volunteers, and no religious content at the club because it is important the project is open to all.
I rely upon volunteers to be able to run the project and to date have had almost 50 volunteers involved. Some cook the food and others run the play time for the children with craft, sports and cooking activities. Without this team of volunteers the club could not happen.
So just who volunteers? Well – besides myself co-ordinating the project as a PhD student – volunteers range in age from students in their teens to retirees in their 80s. Each volunteer brings something different to the team and the project aims to value each volunteer in themselves. Some volunteers are from the local church and the surrounding area, while others come from further afield to work together. This has meant building a team of people with a variety of experiences and backgrounds.
For the research side of the project several volunteers keep diaries of their motivations, expectations and experiences. Their writing reflects the challenges as well as the enjoyment of being involved with the project.
It’s important not to romanticise responding to need or volunteering. Establishing the team from scratch has been both challenging and rewarding but a positive team spirit now feels very real. These are all important considerations for my research as I look at people’s motivation to act, how this can change over time, and how people’s reflections impact upon their future action. Even over a short period of time there have clearly been benefits not only for the children attending the project but also for the volunteers, including myself.