Client, Volunteer, Employee: a twenty-year journey

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Client, Volunteer, Employee: a twenty-year journey


Billy’s Story

Billy Miller is a kitchen assistant at COPE Galway’s Community Catering service. Here, he shares how connecting with COPE Galway’s services 20 years ago altered the course of his life.

Originally from Scotland, Billy’s life direction changed in 2001 after he learned his friend’s brother was missing somewhere in Galway. Having just gone through a breakup and feeling he had nothing tethering him to Scotland, he decided to go to Ireland to try to find him.

Billy did manage to track him down after going round the homeless hostels but leaving his home and job with the council back in Scotland meant he wound up homeless in Galway himself.

At first Billy bought a tent to live in, before finding his way to COPE Galway’s Fairgreen Hostel for single homeless men in 2003, where he stayed for six months. During this time, he was encouraged to volunteer at what was then COPE Galway’s Meals on Wheels, located on Saint Francis Street.

Billy, having previously worked in manual labour and road laying, was unsure at first if the kitchen would be a good fit for him. “I’d never worked in a kitchen before, it had never appealed to me, and I didn’t have any experience with chef knives.”

He began with small tasks, like preparing vegetables one day a week. This became two days, then three. In 2006 he progressed on to a Community Employment scheme and by 2009 he was a full-time employee of COPE Galway’s Meals on Wheels service (which became Meals4Health in 2020).

“I could’ve ended up being a gardener or a scaffolder – but there was a wee arrow pointing down this road saying, ‘That’s the way to go’.”

He is now the longest serving member on the Community Catering team with over two decades of experience. “The majority of time if somebody is looking for something or wants to know something they’re told to ‘Ask Billy’.”

Billy’s role presents him with new challenges, including updating the daily meal plan for Meals clients on the computer. “I never had a savvy when it came to computers. The only computers I knew were PlayStations.” Billy was determined to keep at it.

“Ever since I’ve worked here – I wouldn’t say I’m brilliant at I.T. – but I try, and I’m learning all the time.”

“When you don’t know computers, people don’t take you on because you don’t have the experience. How are you going to get experience if no one takes you on? You just need one person to take you on,” he said.

Billy now enjoys the liveliness the job provides, although he sometimes has to supply his own excitement during the quiet hours of the early morning starts. “You have to have the craic. Sometimes I come in here at half six in the morning and it’s quiet as hell. So I’ll go in and put the music on and give everyone a little lift.”

The work of preparing and delivering meals can become hectic at times, but Billy does not like to remain idle. He says he has found great fulfilment in the service he helps provide.

“You’re there helping to make a meal that’s going out to older people, and for some of them the only visit they get is from the driver delivering it. And to know that you’re starting that connection rolling, it’s a good buzz.”

Through his work, Billy has been able to learn more about how older people and people who are homeless live and is grateful for both the opportunity to learn and the purpose it gives him. “I look forward to coming to work every day. It’s given me a purpose to get up in the morning.”

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