Christmas can be one of the happiest moments of the year, or it can be one of the saddest. But among the noise that can be Christmas for careleavers, there comes a man & a poet Lemn Sissay, who quietens the noise and reminds them there is more to this annual holiday.
“The Christmas Dinner” was founded by poet Lemn Sissay MBE, inspired by the Tope Project and is run by an organisation of artists, adult care leavers and social care professionals working together to provide a Christmas Day Dinner to remember for care leavers between 16 and 30.
The Christmas Dinner team are motivated by the need to bring about change in how we as a community can assist young care leavers. Christmas is a time for family, and in the absence of family they want to create a special day to remember. It is a time of warmth and happiness and a time to have a good laugh.
What is a care leaver?
A care leaver is anyone who has been in the care of a local authority for at least 13 weeks, whether away from home or in the home, will be considered to have a background in care, and therefore be eligible for support. The are defined as a person aged 25 or under, who has been looked after away from home by a local authority for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14; and who was looked after away from home by the local authority at school-leaving age or after that date.
Many care leavers live in flats, B&B’s, hostels, are sofa surfing or living on the streets on their own. Christmas is a day to dread and then forget.
It’s all about Sharing the Love!
Lemn Sissay is an author of a series of books of poetry, articles, records, broadcasts, public art, commissions and plays.
In the week before Christmas, most of the others departed the children’s home to be with their families. The bare, near-empty house became a holding vessel for the few children who had nowhere to go on Christmas Day. It was overseen by staff who didn’t want to be there either. The onset Christmas was like playing pass-the-parcel to the tune of Jingle Bells when everyone knows there’s nothing in the box. I left care aged 17 with nothing except these memories as the foundation for every Christmas to come.
From a desolate flat on Christmas Day aged 17 as a care leaver, I visited the homes of friends and watched to see how Christmas is. The care-leaver is under immense pressure, and Christmas Day is when it comes to head. The memories compound and the Christmas image twists like the wordless opening scene of La Cité des enfants perdus.
Young people leaving care are probably going through major trauma, possibly even PTSD, while trying to cope with all the ‘normal’ stresses of training, finding work, living as young adults. I am a care-leaver for the rest of my life. It’s not something I get over or avoid. It’s who I am. If there is shame, it isn’t mine. It never was. The shame of the care system isn’t ours or social workers – social workers are the most important workers in our society. The shame of being held in care is by a society that can’t admit it needs the care system.
I am doing this as much for me as much as for them and I am okay with that. Charity really does start at home. – Lemn Sissay (The Guardian 29/Nov/2013)
Lemm is joined by a steering group comprised of artists, theatre people, social work professionals, teachers doctors etc. Each steering group has at least 100 years professional experience of working with young people. The steering groups are a cross pollination between creative and care practitioners & for each area the group is from that area. Each steering group has at least 100 years professional experience of working with young people. It is entirely voluntary, with no admin costs & no worker costs
They have now produced a how to guide for info on how to organize a Christmas Day for Careleavers, which they hope will inspire you to do what they have done, and share the love on Christmas Day with the ones that society can quite often forget.
It’s all happened via word of mouth and pixel power: Twitter, Crowdfunder and Facebook.
– Lemn Sissay
Through social media spreading the word about the Christmas Dinners, thousands of people have got involved over the years. Positive awareness has increased, with people who may not have known about what care leavers face.
And how does it make them feel?
Would have loved something like this when I was a care leaver, Christmas can be a sad and lonely time when you have no family and/or no home, you feel like you don’t belong anywhere. This is a really great cause and although I cant afford to pledge a lot I hope my small contribution helps you reach the £5000 target in time. Have a really brilliant Christmas day! xx
First of all please allow me the moment to congratulate you on such a humane and purposeful activity over the holidays. When I left care in 1983 there was no such service and they were indeed extremely lonely and frightening nights, days and early years. Uncomfortable memories prevented me from applying for volunteering for 2014 and I channelled my desire to support into making a donation supporting the empowerment of young people leaving care.
A Christmas Wish …
Their aim is to source food, venue, Christmas presents, and volunteers and Hosts and most of all the most memorable day ever.
The first successful fundraiser in 2013, they asked for £5000 and then ended up with £10,000. Which led to dinners & future dinners…
- 2013 Manchester
- 2014 Manchester and London
- 2015 Manchester and London and Leeds
- 2016 Manchester London Leeds and Oxford and more
This year they need to raise £30000 to provide the same level of magic for Care leavers at a secret location in Manchester, Leeds and Hackney and to support the possibility of other events around the UK.
If we hit our target on Crowdfunder we will have everything needed to make a memorable magical Christmas Dinner for young adult care leavers. – Lemn Sissay
So let’s do this!