Young adults leaving care are at a particularly vulnerable point in their lives. Support structures become even more precarious and they have to try and find their feet without the networks of family and friends that many of us rely on. It can be make-or-break for them personally and for their relationship with the wider community – and, in many cases – for their children too.
Christmas can be a particularly alienating time for them, as poet and broadcaster, Lemn Sissay, explains:
"As soon as the adverts come on television, the young care leaver senses they are being drawn to the memory of what they’ve never had. I felt just the same when I left care."
So we provide Christmas Dinner, on Christmas Day: a day when the young care-leaver might otherwise be sat alone in a bedsit, sofa-surfing or even on the streets. But more than that, we aim to provide an enjoyable, memorable Christmas experience with food, friendship, entertainment, decorations and meaningful gifts, in a safe and caring environment.
The dinner is planned and run entirely by volunteers. We raise the funds, arrange the guests, buy and wrap the presents, cook and serve the dinner… so every penny we raise goes into organising the day. This includes dinner, significant, useful and meaningful gifts for each guest, venue, entertainment, decorations.
We also pay for taxis to take the guests to and from the venue. This is partly to keep it a surprise, partly for security and partly for the young people's safety.
The guests are 40–50 young care-leavers aged between 18 and 24. They are referred to us by the local authority care-leavers teams.
Where does my money go?
As a rough guide:
But there are also decorations and other smaller costs associated with organising and preparing the day, so any amount of donation is very welcome.
Lemn Sissay started The Christmas Dinners for young adults leaving care in Manchester in 2013.
"We create positive memories for them to recall next year when Christmas comes along."
This year, the third year for Birmingham, there are dinners in more than 20 UK cities.