The Christmas Day Dinner initiative was started in 2013 by Lemn Sissay,
writer and poet, who believed that no child who has been in care should
spend Christmas Day alone. Now, four years later, in 2017 there are
nine Christmas dinners taking place all over
the UK, supported by the local communities, caring for our care
Richmond Christmas Day Dinner has been organised by a group of
dedicated men and women, who have
volunteered to try to give these young people a Christmas where they
are the VIP guests! All 51 gusts will be chauffered to the venue by car
services, regaled with a dinner, and receive presents that come that
have been personalised, where possible, to each
of the guests, to give these young care leavers a Christmas day of a
In Hounslow Rotary's support of this community project, this
beautiful, eight ft Christmas tree was donated by Hounslow
Rotarian Karin-Beate Phillips and lovingly decorated with fellow
Hounslow Rotarian Brigitte Faubert to lend a glittering sense of
festivity to the care leavers' Christmas dinner which the local
community has organised for Christmas Day at the Hampton
Cricket Club, who generously allowed the classic cricket club venue to
be used for the event.
Everyone who played a part in the Christmas Day dinner
preparations, and the big day, did so much and touched the hearts
of all of the guests in ways we will probably never really know,
but the day was an incredibly special one which they will remember
for a long long time.
Bernie Moss=Collins, one of the organising team, reports:
On behalf of everyone at the Richmond Christmas Day Dinner, thank
you for your help, support, time and generosity.
With your help, fifty young local people who
recently left the care system, enjoyed a scrumptious and magical
Christmas Day Dinner together. This unique community event
created a special day for those who had nowhere to go on the Big
Day, many of whom had never had a family Christmas or had had
very negative experiences at Christmas. The goal was to create
new memories and bring care leavers and the community together
as one ‘family’. As Lemn Sissay, the poet and care leaver said
'"It's about giving them a smile and making them know
that they matter on that day."
The generosity and big heartedness of the
Hounslow Rotary Club was central to the event’s success. With no
official charity or government funding, it relied on people of
all ages and backgrounds to pool their goodwill, energies and
resources to create a traditional, family-feel Christmas.
The feedback and thank yous have been coming in
from the guests and the coordinators wanted us to share them
Firstly they were keen to say they really appreciated your
involvement and contributions, especially with donations and
contacts, as it would have been impossible without them.
The venue, the Hampton Wick Cricket Club in the heart of Bushy Park, had a make over
from the venue team, and on the day it looked magical with
decorations, the amazing tree as a glorious centre piece, lights
and candles. The guests - many of whom were nervous, others
overwhelmed - were all very grateful. Friendships were made and
mobile numbers swapped.
This note captures the feelings at the event well:
‘I am writing to you and everybody else who
took part in last night's Christmas dinner to say a BIG Big thank you. Everything
you did for us was above my expectations and definitely put a
big smile on my face throughout the whole day yesterday.
Everything was well thought-out even down to little gifts by the
toilet to getting a glamour session with my hair and nails
‘Your efforts were so worth it because you made
me and so many other care leavers feel very, very happy and
grateful. I was so glad to have met new friends who were also in
care, so we have something in common and can be friends that
understand each other. I haven't told my other friends that I
was in care, because I was afraid that they'd judge me as if I
was disadvantaged and that they'd treat me differently. So it's
great to have friend with a similar history/background. I would
definitely come back again next year if it's running again!’
One of the highlights was the photo booth,
kindly donated by Darren at Megabooth. It acted as a great
icebreaker and some of the more shy and reserved guests were
able to bond with others and laugh at themselves. Our
volunteers enjoyed playing in this too! Another huge success
was the craft table. One beautiful moment was looking at a table
of 6-8 enthralled young men doing crafts for about 2 hours,
making Pom Poms and keeping them safe to take home. A table
full of sparkle and glitter - as those volunteers who were there
on clean-up day can testify!
The food, all donated by local businesses, was
superb. Out of that kitchen came a choice of vegetarian, fish
and turkey options including halal meat. The professional
volunteer chefs were unflappable and the sight of the room
filled with chatter and laughter was magical. A massive
chocolate yule log, baked by a volunteer's teenage son, was
divided up and taken home for later. We had been warned not to
expect big appetites, but the opposite was true.
Vince Cable made an appearance and the Hounslow
Mayor, a care leaver herself, came for dinner and sat talking to
two girls about her story. She was an inspiration to us all.
The guests adored their personalised presents
and they only opened their table ones during the day and went
home with their stockings. So, thank you to everyone who
donated gifts directly or via the Amazon Wishlist – your
thoughtfulness was hugely appreciated. We pinned the gift notes
on noticeboards for all to read, many with tears in their eyes.
One young girl said at the end - ‘the most overwhelming thing is
the Co-op bags, because you didn't just care about today,
you cared abut what happens tomorrow' – so again a huge thank
you to all those who contributed to the filling of the hampers
for the young people to take home.
As one of our guests commented: - ‘You guys are
Thank you, Hounslow Rotary Club, and a Happy
New Year from The Christmas Day Richmond Team.