Lemn Sissay's project aims to ensure care leavers don’t experience Christmas alone

A COLLECTIVE of volunteers are on a mission to organise the first “Christmas Day for Care Leavers” in Liverpool this year. The Christmas Dinners is an annual project that aims to provide a magical Christmas Day for care leavers aged between 18 and 25, turning the festive season into a time to cherish.

It's about young people who are going through the care leaving process, feeling valued and special.

The annual project was founded by poet Lemn Sissay MBE who spent most of his childhood in care. Lemn recognised that young people who had been raised in care often lacked support once they left the care system aged 18. The Gold from the Stone Foundation coordinates the national initiative and acts as a central point of contact and support for regional hosts and helpers. 

Lemn Sissay Cv 20015030969
Lemn Sissay, founder of The Christmas Dinners

Since 2013, the foundation has helped teams in 25 towns and cities to host over 60 Christmas Day dinners. This year is the fifth event for the Wirral Christmas Day Dinner but until now, there hasn’t been a Christmas Dinner in Liverpool.

Leading the first Liverpool project are Hazel Gearing and Caroline Fogell. The two friends are now both retired, but previously worked in social care, and know that Christmas can often be isolating and distressing for young people transitioning from care.

“A lot of these young people are out in communities from the age of 16 without any support, or very little support and it’s a struggle. It’s a whole range of issues that they’re facing,” says Hazel.

Christmas Dinners Care Leavers Liverpool Wirral Lemn Sissay Gold From The Stone
The aim is to create a day to remember Image: The Christmas Dinners

“Essentially, The Christmas Dinner is about young people who are going through the care leaving process, feeling valued and special. Lemn uses the word ‘magical’, and for some of those young people, their past experiences will have been far from magical.”

The aim is to create a day to remember, to make new, joyful memories of Christmas, which they may not have experienced before. 

“Christmas can be a difficult time for anybody because there’s such hype and expectation about how it should be,” says Caroline. 

“This event is about making ‘good memories’ for Christmas. The dinners are already established around the country and we wanted to do one in Liverpool. This will be the first one, but we want to do one every year.”

The events usually involve a sit-down meal at a venue, but this year the plan is to deliver presents on Christmas Eve and food on Christmas Day.

Christmas Dinners Care Leavers Liverpool Wirral Lemn Sissay Quilts
Quilts for Care Leavers provide a special gift

The Christmas Dinners organisation also works with Quilts for Care Leavers, a collective of patchworkers and quilters gifting handmade quilts to young people aged 18-25 leaving the state care system in the UK.

Hazel explains, “So many young people in care will have multiple moves and end up losing their precious belongings. The quilts are about a sense of ownership; something made especially for them which they can own and keep and I think that's really special.

“I remember when we were at the Wirral event two years ago and when the quilts came out, it was one of the most moving times of the day to see these young people overwhelmed. It was just very special.”

How you can help

There’s a lot of planning involved to make the project a success, and volunteers are needed to help with shopping and transport.

Read next: The Liverpool food and drink gift guide: Christmas 2021

Read again: Christmas arrives in Liverpool with the big lights switch-on

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