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FIFTY young people from Richmond who have just left care homes are going to receive a once in a lifetime Christmas, thanks to a project inspired by Lemn Sissay, the official poet from the 2012 Olympic Games. The Christmas Dinner will come to Richmond Borough for the first time this December, after Sissay galvanised members of the local community to provide a traditional, family-feel Christmas Day for care leavers aged between 18 and 25. Richmond will be only the second London Borough to make this happen.

Our merry band of Richmond Borough volunteers IS led by Sian Thomas who was driven to get involved after a chance meeting with a homeless man almost 12 months ago.

“On Christmas Eve 2016, I met a young man sitting on the ground outside the local Burger King. We had a chat, went for a burger together and had a nice couple of hours,” says Sian, who works for the NHS and lives in Twickenham.

“What was so sad was I could have told you his history before he spoke – 22-years-old, parents alcoholics, had been in care with placements broken down, foster home to foster home, children’s home to children’s home. Now totally alone, he was spending Christmas Eve and Day alone. Society had totally failed him. Who knows where people like this young man would spend Christmas Day? It inspired me and a number of other people to do something about it.”

Lemn Sissay, a care leaver himself, set up the Christmas Day Dinner initiative in 2013 and it has already taken place in Liverpool and Hackney with great success. “The thing is,” says Sissay, “I remember saying when I left care, ‘I don’t want to just survive. I want to live.’ And the Christmas Dinner isn’t about surviving; it’s about living.”

Now it is Richmond’s turn to ensure our care leavers aren’t alone on Christmas Day. The team’s vision is to ensure this is not just a normal Christmas Day but a once in a lifetime event. Guests will be picked up by taxi, driven to a top-notch venue, served the best food from a great chef, and handed a goodie bag with top-drawer goods.