Careleavers Christmas 2017

Caring for careleavers at Christmas time.

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 leavers, 

The 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 lifetime.

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 with you.

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 done.’

‘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 the best!’

Thank you, Hounslow Rotary Club, and a Happy New Year from The Christmas Day Richmond Team.

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