Real lives: volunteering saved me after I lost my son

Dad and son

Roy Earle only ever looks back in fondness after 40 years volunteering

21st November 2017 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Back in the day, they were called soup kitchens and on any night you could see the most pitiful examples of destitute humanity. The homeless, the elderly, the hungry and the unlucky were all there and the most we could do was offer shelter, a hot meal and company. The legendary late Eddie Stark, who was a Salvation Army volunteer of some 50 years standing, first encouraged me to get involved and his powers of persuasion were hypnotic.

He asked me on Argyle Street one Sunday morning for a donation to help feed the homeless at the Halfway House – the night shelter on Glasgow’s Hope Street. Cheekily he said he’d value my time even more than my donation and if I ever wanted to pop in they’d always find work for me.

I’m 83 now and then, as a hard-pressed sergeant for Strathclyde Police working out of Pitt Street, I knew a lot of the homeless and destitute on first name terms. My experience told me they were rarely trouble: hard times befall us all and the Christian thing is to look upon those who aren’t as fortunate as ourselves with grace. 

Roy Earle

Roy Earle

True to my word I turned up at Halfway House and stayed for 22 years. Despite my initial trepidation, the fact I was a copper enhanced my reputation among the service users and never caused a problem.  As I patrolled Glasgow’s busy streets, when it came to moving the beggars and the homeless on from alcoves and alleyways, I instead pointed them to the appropriate services or a church offering support.

At the time, I had just lost my son Craig to Leukaemia and I had been looking to offer my support in some shape or form to others as a way of keeping active and to stop me having negative thoughts.

They were great years where I met unique characters and forged lasting friendships. More often than not, I’d strike up a relationship with a punter only to see them get back on their feet and get back into society to lead a normal life. That was always indescribably rewarding. 

They were great years where I met unique characters and forged lasting friendships

After Halfway closed its doors and I had retired I started giving my time to the Salvation Army, volunteering as a van driver. But my heart was in the shelters and before long I returned first at the night shelter run by the Salvation Army in the city and latterly one run by the Glasgow Asylum Destitution Network.

Everything I do I hope meets with Craig’s approval. I just wanted him to be proud of his dad, the same way I was proud of him. He would have been 55 this year and I can’t describe how much I miss him. Every Christmas we plant a flower in the woods he played in as a boy and I regularly talk away to him as if he is still with me.

We’ve all got different ways of coping, different ways of dealing with our existence. My way was to volunteer and it’s enabled me to live a full life when I feared I would throw in the towel.