“CHRISTMAS DAY can be the saddest, most distraught day of the year” says Lemn Sissay - the award-winning official poet of the London 2012 Olympics. “I remember when I was in care, and when I left care, that Christmas was the worst day.”
For those in care, or those who have just left it, Christmas day is like playing pass-the-parcel to the tune of Jingle Bells, when everybody knows there’s nothing in the box.
It’s these memories that inspired him to start The Christmas Dinner. A volunteer-led project that sources venues, food, decorations, and music to create a happy, memorable Christmas for care leavers.
“They need to have fun, they need to have a great, joyous experience, and wonderful presents. We want to say: ‘Put your feet up, relax, and let us treat you. Let’s make a memory, so that next year you have something really positive to look back on.”
The project is eligible for all care leavers - defined as any person aged 25 or under who has been looked after by local authorities way from the home for at least thirteen weeks since the age of fourteen, as well as those with a background in care within the home. Upon leaving care, many young people end up alone in flats, B&Bs, sofa-surfing, or living on the streets, making Christmas a day to dread and forget.
“For those in care, or those who have just left it, Christmas day is like playing pass-the-parcel to the tune of Jingle Bells, when everybody knows there’s nothing in the box.”
“There is a prejudice in our society against the young person in care and I want to help us reverse that.” says Sissay, “People in care are incredible because they deal with the darkest situation with incredible light and I want to pay homage to them on the day that many of them feel at their darkest.”
Starting in Manchester in 2013, The Christmas Dinner received overwhelming support in its first year, raising 200% of its £5,000 target, with the extra donations being used the following year. Since then the operation has spread, and will include events in Hackney, Oxford, and Leeds in 2016.
Volunteers come from a broad cross-section of society - teachers, doctors, social workers, even unemployed people who want to give up their time to host the dinners. Cast members from Corrie and EastEnders turned up to the Manchester and Hackney events in 2015, and this year Rahila Hussain, winner of ITV1’s Food Glorious Food is on board as one of the chefs.
They’ve raised money to fund the dinners for 50 people each, including food, gifts, resources, and travel to and from the venues. They’re also appealing for local businesses to get involved with this year’s effort, as well an individuals to help make decorations, wrap presents, prepare food, or act as hosts on the day.
If you’re interested in helping source donations, collect presents, or volunteering before or during the celebrations, get in touch with The Christmas Dinner’s Leeds Team via email or help out by buying something from their carefully curated Amazon wishlist