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 MBE (above) 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. We’re only the second London borough to make this happen.
The goal is to mobilise the resources and generosity of the local people and businesses to put on a scrumptious and magical Christmas Day Dinner. The event will create a special day for people who may never have had that experience or even more, had very negative experiences at Christmas, to create new memories and bring people together as one ‘family’.
The merry band of Richmond Borough volunteers are 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.
The Richmond project was kickstarted by a grant from The Lemn Sissay Foundation and last month, a dedicated steering group came together to plan the best Christmas experience for Care Leavers. As Sian explains there is still plenty of time for you to get involved, for you to make a real difference to the lives of 50 young people. So what can you do?
“We need help on Christmas Eve, decorating the venue, wrapping presents, making it look wonderful,” Sian explains. “We will also need help with people transporting items to and from the event. One of the key things we need is presents for these young adults. Many have never had presents at Christmas before so we are appealing to local business to provide these presents, especially ones that have that ‘wow’ effect.
“We need a chef, maitre d’, kitchen helpers, washer uppers and people who help clear away – not glamorous but absolutely vital or the event won’t work. Helpers on Christmas Day would be fantastic but we also need volunteers on Christmas Eve and for the big clear up on Boxing Day. The event will be warm, comfortable, hospitable and traditional.
“We all know people who would like to make a different to the lives of others at Christmas – now they can by getting involved with The Christmas Dinner.
“A warm fuzzy feeling is guaranteed.”
If you’d like to get involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org