The Christmas Dinner How To Guide for Care Leavers 2017.

  1. Welcome to The Guide
  2. Communications
  3.  Food Chef and Maitre’d
  4. Venue and design
  5.   Presents
  6. Finance  – expenses and donations
  7. Referrals
  8. Volunteers
  9. Transport
  10.   Vision and Video
  11. Timeline
  12.   Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

But first have a look at this 2013.  


1. Welcome to the Christmas Dinner  How To Guide

So pleased you’re here. Here’s how to put on a Christmas Dinner in your area


The event is for care leavers between to 18 to 27.


The atmosphere of the Christmas Dinner is one of comfort and joy.  This takes organization and rigorous attention to detail.

The rough numbers

A  maximum of 60 is a good number for intimacy. Plus about 30 to 40 percent more for volunteers .  So a maximum of 75-ish.   Remember these numbers are not the law. They’re an approximation.

A name 

Call it The Christmas Dinner followed or preceded by the area. The “Hackney Christmas Dinner” for example or “Xmas” if you prefer.  There’s a reason it’s not called “The Care Leavers Christmas Dinner”
Email address

Set up a Gmail address. Use one that identifies the project for example. Use this email account throughout your project. It will become an important place of record. If you send any email from your own email address always CC the central Gmail address. Set up folders relating to the seven elements of The Christmas Dinner described later on.

Now get a dream date .

You need a team. People.  You need between 15 to 20 people – a mixture consisting of care  professionals and professional creatives . You will be  asking them to come to a meeting. Find someone to help or do it yourself.  I did. Each interested party may know another. So put a note up on your personal Facebook page or in the  shop window, ask your friends.  Ask at work.   Put it on Facebook or twitter.

What are team members  committing to

Eight meetings between September/October and December:  See timeline. And remember they don’t have to be there on Christmas Day.

Now get a room

Find a room somewhere. It should be free and relatively warm. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to find a free room for a good cause.  Now write everyone to confirm the time and place of the meeting. They’re expecting your follow up confirmation email. Include a) Video from Manchester 2013 and this from London & Manchester 2014. or this from 2015. Exciting stuff.    Now you have a date and place and a group of dedicated and committed individuals – all via your Gmail address.  Now all you need do is communicate information clearly and lay it all out.

The first meeting.

The seven elements of The Christmas Dinner are     1. Venue & design.   2. Food, chef & Maitre’d   3. Transport.   4. Referrals   5. Volunteers 6. Presents    I’ll guide you through these processes in the next few pages.

The first Document

Documents will become the backbone of your body of work.   The first is The Christmas Dinner Team Details.  It needs to include the team   1. Name   2.  Present Job Title  3. Telephone number 4. Email address.  You could save in Google Sheets.

What is  The Christmas Dinner team

It is a group of people who have come together from our community with one aim in mind – to care for the care leaver on Christmas Day.  We will not stop until that aim is achieved through the seven elements. . Each person will take total responsibility for making it happen. We will consult each other with the mindset of one who can make this. We will use all our skills and resources to get what we want.   The buck stops here.   And we are starting from scratch.

Sort out the tasks

Ask folks to sort the seven elements  between the group – a minimum of two people per element. This meeting and maybe the next should be about pooling as many ideas as possible for each element.  As the team start to grasp the idea answers will start to arrive. And you can schedule the next meeting.

I’ ll spend the next few pages going through the six  elements so that you have a firm grasp of what’s needed.  Then I will give you a timeline of what needs to be achieved over the three months.  But before that let’s deal with communications


This is the most important thing for a cohesive team. Once split into six groups they must send emails within their sections not to the whole group.  This is important. There shouldn’t be millions of emails going round with everyone CC’ed.    Keep your email chain between your section. Report back to The Christmas Dinner Steering Group Meetings.   There is no need for minutes but there should be a place which has a central list of agreed objectives.   Each person will take notes as they need to.  And they will need to. There are eight meetings in all.  I have written this document to save time and worry, now for the tasks


Manchester’s is @McrXmasDinner . Each Christmas Dinner has one.  They’re really useful to get the word out.    It’s a really good idea to put your  Christmas Dinner email address on the heading  description of the twitter account. Here’s Manchester’s.


It’s a really good idea to have a Facebook page and for it to be Open   or closed –  but there is nothing to hide and everything to gain from transparency –   so that anyone can join including the core group. The example is The Hackney Christmas Dinner Facebook Page.


It’s a really good idea to take a photograph of each meeting as it is happening  & upload the photograph. It’s a wonderful point of record and it is good to tweet it out there.   Adds to the pizzazz that something  beautiful is happening.  Of course those who don’t want to be photographed can make it known.

What I know

Commitment by the team is key. There needs to be dogged determination and belief that a group of people can come together to provide this from thin air.   The proof of the pie is in the tasting. It has been done three times with me with teams in Hackney and Manchester and Leeds and Oxford and Liverpool

Believe me when I say that being part of this team is like going on an adventure.  I have heard social workers say it restored their faith in what they do.  It will be difficult at first  but you must keep belief to the end. Be so concentrated on making it happen that there is  no way it couldn’t. This is the attitude I have taken and this has been a revelation to me.

Important points? This is not an institution.  I cannot overstate how important that is.  There’s no  Oliver  Twist “Please sir can I have some more”.  That is not the Christmas Dinner.  The Christmas dinner is an intimate experience for the care leaver where they feel cherished.

What we are doing is creating memories so that when they look back at the Christmas Day of the previous year they can say they had a great time.  Family is a collection of memories.  We are creating the environment for a good memory. That’s all.


Find a chef and maitre’d.  You know the number who will be attending. We are working with 70 including volunteers as a maximum but yours might be 20 or 40.  This decision on numbers is important to decide at the first or second meeting.  the Chef will need to know.   We want to achieve everything for free but I have found sometimes you may have to pay the professional chef/cook. He or she will tell you what the kitchen needs are.  You’ll need to get the food order from the chef.

Kitchen and Food

Here are lists taken from previous years  1) Hire equipment list   2) Vegetable shopping list 3) Chef/Cooks list 4) Christmas Dinner list

Volunteer teams

The kitchen volunteer teams will have various roles that need to be split into one document with times and roles. (See volunteers)

How to get the food

Even before you have the food order or chef the food team can crack on with finding donations of food.  Know anyone who works at the local supermarket or local grocer?   Any turkey farms in your area any cake shops?   Pool ideas in the first two meetings use facebook.  Food businesses have approved kitchens. The reasons we want donations of food is so that the community takes care of the care leavers at this time.

Nothing goes to waste

Like any  good Christmas Dinner there should be food left over.  Get 200 plastic takeaway trays for the distribution afterwards.  This will be very important.  Also please do not waste anything. There are food banks that would love the surplus.

The food needs to be halal or a mixture of halal. Ask everyone if they are halal eaters on the referral and volunteer forms as well as vegetarians.


Service and seating is paramount to the smooth running of The Christmas Dinner.  The maitre’d runs this. It must feel like a happy Christmas dinner not an institutionalized affair.  The Maitre’d can be brought on once you have the venue (or earlier) and then much later. – unless she/he wants to contribute further


There should be snacks and coffee tea juice and water when people arrive (breakfast bar). Sweets for after the meal.


Venue needs

The venue team must be creative about finding an adequate space cause no venue is perfect.   Think of normal Christmas dinners – what space IS perfect? Exactly? None. Maybe you’ll only have three or four rooms. How will you work them so they can comfortably accommodate

1.    Games space – giant jenga, pool etc.
1.     Film space   – large space for films throughout the day.
2.     Computer Game Space – computer on wall with Xbox games
3.     Crèche area – for young care leavers who have children.
4.     Presents room  – for the storage of presents on the day
5.     Secure coats and bags room
6.     Dinner space – the main room for the dinner.
7.     Production office – where the producer for the day keeps all documents
8.     An outside area for smoking

Design needs

The primary purpose of the design is that the space is made Christmassy. You need to find somebody who will be able to take charge in transforming the room.  You’ll need a Christmas Tree but maybe the venue has one already.  Maybe they have Christmas decorations already.    The main aim is to make it feel Christmassy – as a gift in itself.  The designer will have all kinds of needs once they see the venue.   It is your job to find and source what is needed for and with the designer.   One element which seems always to get ignored is lighting.  A theatre designer is the perfect person. Remember we are looking to get their decorations etc., for free.


The venue is a secret.  Only the team and the attendants should know where it is.

Assurances and  Insurances

Personal/public  liability insurance is not difficult and possibly one of the group will allow you to attach it via his  or her company/charity. You will need to do  Risk assessment on the building and the day which will be a document for the day.  The venue will need insurance. Maybe you could insure through their insurance.

Risk Assessment Example


Presents must have the WOW factor we felt once on Christmas Day. These young people deserve that. Plus stocking fillers.  Encourage companies to donate presents.  Who are the companies in the local shopping center?  Approach them?  Remember the number we had at the beginning, then that helps with how many presents you need.   You want enough to fill a Christmas Bag.  Know the local roundtable organization?    Anyone you know got an office who will donate secret Santa’s?  Will the local cinema give free tickets?   Will a hairdresser offer a few free haircuts?   It’s a fun thing to ask people.  Get someone or a company to donate a £20 note for a card, be creative about who you’ll approach. Write to national companies – write to Apple.  Personal contacts are always better. And remember that each person who attends will have a Christmas card written to them from us in their name.   Try the local media centre: BBC? Galaxy?

An Amazon wish  List

This a really REALLY good idea. Manchester and London have had real success with it in 2016. It saves you a lot of time and gives people the chance to give and deliver the presents ready wrapped even. Check out Amazon wish lists.

An additional present of a goody bag of food staples

to take home is a good idea.  Don’t forget the mince pies!  The Goody bag should be given as they leave for taxi – not as a xmas present. Both the smaller bag for the food and the larger bags for the presents can be found in Poundland – bright colours. Ideally you want one company to provide the food goody bag.  A  supermarket may do that.

Present Packing

Present packing is done on Christmas Eve. It can take three to four hours. You can split it into two shifts with different people. Normally it’s a fun Christmassy affair.  Don’t worry about that yet.      You will need a) Christmas bags b) Christmas Tags c) sellotape d) wrapping paper. Get them from Poundland. Every bag must be tagged and specific to the name of the person it’s for.   Think about presents for a raffle too

If they are presents that need information like shoes or clothes you will need to ask on the referral forms to include requests for shoe sizes etc. Make sure to write down all the people/companies who gave presents in one document with contact details.

Present storage

Ideally one of the groups has a space that can hold the presents until Christmas Eve.  It needs to be secure. If all else fails put it in storage. This will cost money. Keep your receipts and it will be paid at the end.


Finance  has been given to The Christmas Dinner by the kind people of Britain and some from afar as United States South Africa and Ethiopia: It is for the care leaver.  Every penny is to be used for the care leaver Christmas dinner.

The idea of The Christmas Dinner  is that you won’t need any of the finance.  This is impossible and so  we have a 5,000 contingency money for any Christmas Dinner.  It is only available to the Christmas dinner teams who follow the seven elements. .

As for what the costs could entail:   We have always had to pay for the taxis. So that will be your first cost.  There are various reasons why each guest travels by taxi a) security.

After that expenses will be incurred. Maybe you find the chef neds an extra oven.  maybe you need to contribute to presents, maybe you’ll need to hire tableware for the day or even food.  Ofcourse all these things should be for free – and that is our aim –  but experience has shown that after trying all avenues there will probably be something that needs a nudge.

We give the  money to a registered charity  for each Christmas Dinner. it is your job to find the registered charity who will account for the money.

We raise money via . You can see our previous campaigns via crowdfunder.


All expenses – from the  organisers –  should be agreed between your group and recorded on an Expenses Sheet with receipts. Take pictures of the receipts along with the expenses sheet. We don’t expect you will have expenses outside the seven tasks: taxiing the food or the presents etc.

For Donations:

The Christmas Dinner bank details are

Account Name:          The Christmas Dinner Account

Account bank             The Cooperative Bank

Sort Code                   089299

Account number       645741757

For questions about this account write to Simon Ruding at


A referral is a young care leaver who   is coming to the Christmas dinner. For every care leaver you need a fully filled in Referral form. The referral form tells you everything you need to know about the needs of the young people.  We accept self-referrals too.

Look at the referral form in detail. It includes the times of the dinner and is extremely informative.  You can start to make inroads to the various organisations in your area – Barnados social services, hostels.     Campaign.  Don’t set up a Christmas Dinner Website – it’s a waste of time. Use your time wisely.

Do not under estimate this job.   Transparency is crucial.   People will ask about the project so remember everything has checks and balances.  The kitchen is accredited, the venue is checked for health and safety, all the volunteers will be DBS checked or vouched for by a professional. Tthe Christmas dinner steering team will have up to one hundred years’ experience working with young people.

Getting referrals will test your patience. There will be a last minute stampede for places by people who showed little interest when you first approached them.  People only start thinking of Christmas in December but you can seed the idea early. You motivate the workers/referrers that this is a REALLY GOOD idea for the young care leavers.  That it is voluntary.

Though we have never done this I am informed that a £25 fee per person could be charged.  It’s never happened. It would only be a symbolic  charge if you chose to do it.   This is not charged to any individual young adult  or self-referral.   Whomever runs referals must work professionally with young people in care.

Here is the referral Form

Important:  All contact details must be private to the referral organisers on the steering group team. They must work in the field of young people.

Project Phone

There needs to be a project phone for the referrals especially.


You’ll be surprised how many people will volunteer for Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. It’s a thing of beauty.   Once again this is about asking people and showing them the crowdfunder site. Show them what you are doing and see if they may commit. I’m hoping that the noise will spread through your social networks wherever they are and whatever they may be. I have noticed you will get an abundance of volunteers if you put the word out – often too many.  Choosing your volunteers is really important.  The person who runs this needs to be care experienced and mindful not to let people in who want to ogle the pitiful. Volunteers want to facilitate the greatness of young people. You will use your professional and personal instincts for this.  The volunteers do not need to be nor should they be all social workers. This is about the community taking responsibility of their Care Leavers.  No volunteer can bring their children.  I’ll leave it for you to discuss why that is the case.

Things for Volunteers to do

On Christmas Eve they’ll need to deliver the presents from wherever they’re stored and wrap the presents.  They’ll need to prepare the rooms.  Some of the Kitchen team will need to chop veg and prepare the kitchen.

On Christmas Day they’ll need to be available ideally from 10am to 8.30pm but they can easily split this into half days.  There’ll be a kitchen team, washing up team, serving team, waiter team, allocated roles throughout the day, greeters. There are probably more jobs than this. You’ll what the needs are as they organizing takes up. But remember the volunteers are for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

You must remember the cleanup. I personally think it is better to employ someone professionally to do the clean up on Boxing Day or in the evening. Even so the place should be left as clear and as possible.

Volunteer application form

Volunteer list

Volunteer info sheet

Volunteer reference request

Volunteer Dinner spreadsheet

Volunteer letter and timings


From the referral forms you have the telephone numbers and addresses of all the young people: You need to find a taxi firm that will pick them up and drop them off.  There’s a reason why we don’t have a bus to pick them up.  Again it’s about The Christmas Dinner not feeling institutionalized. Although some taxis can double up. You can ask them on the referral form if they don’t mind sharing a taxi.    The taxi firm is a logistical job that needs to be taken care of in two parts.  The first part is

1.     Work out on a map where everyone lives.

2.     You’ll know who wants a cab via their referral forms

3.     Find a cab firm and give them the details. See if you can get a deal.

4.     Use the form to write down reference numbers of the cabs and all the details including pick up and drop off times.

5.      You’ll know the time you arrive


Here is the taxi booking form as an excel file but you want to make it a GOOGLE SHEET WHICH IS basically a spreadsheet online.

Any production coordinator of a TV company can do this with their eyes closed. They would be the ideal person to do this job in particular.

The reason we use a taxi firm is because of insurance. They are insured to pick up and drop off.

Remember this also means telephoning each young person to check they are okay with the pick-up times.   It needs to be a reputable taxi firm, you need to negotiate the costs prior to the event and need group texts to each young person for confirmation

Taxi Travel Schedule document

10. The Vision  & Video

I was inspired to do this by The Tope Christmas Dinner of 2012:   I contributed to it in a small way but I was determined to make it happen in Manchester the following year.  And since then I’ve helped organise three Christmas Dinners – 2013 Manchester and 2014 in Manchester and hackney . They have all used this model.

It is not an organization. It’s more organized than that.  Each area organizes locally. But there needs to be one person people turn to for a final decision if all else fails.  He or she needs to see the process through to the end.  I will support that person. They are the driving force, the symbol of what this is all about.   This inspiration.  His or her role is to do nothing other than push the process along. Minutes are not important but task lists are important. Each person should have a notepad or paper or somewhere to write their tasks.  One person should make note of every allocated task.   Everyone is there in a personal capacity to make it happen. That must be the sole aim for being there.   I have heard some beautiful reasons.  It is an inspiring project to be a part of.   Each individual in the team needs to take on and own your own roles. If any individual thinks it’s not possible then  they shouldn’t be in the team.

We are one group of people who have come together from our community with one aim in mind – to care for the care leaver on Christmas Day. The day should feel like a shared Christmas day with supportive adults and young people feeling relaxed .  We will not stop until that aim is achieved.  Each one of us will take total responsibility for making it happen. We will consult each other with the mindset of one who will  make this happen We will use all our skills and resources to get what we want. We will not let the young people down.  We will not let ourselves down.   Live up to the commitment you make and only commit to what you can do.  The payback and satisfaction is  more than any money could buy

Taking care of each other

Everyone there on the day – the workers –  should be making sure that all in attendance are ok, giving people space and also time to talk if needs be. There should be enough volunteers to allow some to mingle and talk and get involved in the activities along with the guests.  Never a raised voice.

VIDEO of the day

Make sure you do a video of the day. This should  be done simply and easily via iphones.  Ask two of the volunteers to ask this question of  the young adults

a)    What would you have been doing had you nto been here

b)   What did you think of the day ?

Remember to get an iphone movie of people leaving too.  You can see examples of this here. Follow this model.  They can then be edited via imovie into a simple video no longer than three and an half minutes.  Here’s the 2015 video. This is why we do it.



This timeline is a guide. It is not the law.  You haven’t broken a rule if you start in October..  Flexibility is important. This  is simply a guide. September is better honest!



5th  allocate groups for roles.  If there’s two people per role that would be minimum:       Remember the nine elements? two people per element.  Now as a group start                   to pool ideas for, presents,  pledges,  venue, volunteers, referals,  chef, food  – pool ideas for , presents,  pledges,  venue, volunteers, referals,  chef.

20th Progress report and then again pool ideas for , presents,  pledges,  venue,            volunteers, referals,  chef, food. You’ve found a chef/cook and he she will give you  a list  of his needs (see kitchen section of this doc).  Volunteers: start looking for volunteers.Start looking for referals.   Start looking for presents.  Pool ideas for venue.  You will notice that things are starting to move.  These meetings are magical and the result of  focused work by each individual.


5th report back  and pool ideas for venue, presents,  referals, volunteers, chef.  Ideally venue is identified now or on 20th

20th  Start seeking volunteers start seeking referals and presents.


5th You could all met again to go over what’s happpned so far.

20th  You have the presents.  You have the venue.  You have most  of the the food.  You have the chef. You have reached your   target  and still there is  another  week to go for the campaign to finish.  You have most of the volunteers and some referals.


5th   You have the presents. You have the venue.  You have the food.  You have the          chef.  You have the kitchens sorted out.  You have the maitre’d D. You have communicated to all the volunteers what is needed and  when. You have all the referrals.    You have you have a producer  for the day.  You have the taxi firm confirmed.

17th   This is the final meeting. By now everything should be sorted. It’s a packed house and ready to go. Everything is organised done and dusted.  All we need to                      do is a clear workplan for the day.  Fortunately we have that and here it is     for Christmas Eve and Day


Christmas Eve needs a  Timelined document filled so that you are sure of what’s going on that day and who needs to be there etc.  Food deliveries. Wrapping presents.  Food prep.  Volunteer coordination.   One person should be allocated as the producer for the day. .

Christmas Event schedule


Christmas Day needs the schedule to be flied so that everyone is sure what’s going on and who is responsible for each space  at any minute of the entire day.  This is crucial.

Christmas Day Schedule

Risk Assessment


You need a producer for Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. She or he needs to have all the relevant numbers. Hospital Numbers. Where the coats are secured.  List of all names and contact numbers of volunteers and young people. There needs to be a greeter on the door with a corresponding list of  guests.  They’ve come a long way to get there and then  the greeter takes them in.

The producer is the Go To person on the actual day. The producer will have the full picture of the lay out of the whole Christams Dinner  day.


Leave the venue as you found it. Cleaner than you found it.


Do a report if you like.   Do an evaluation if you like.  Ask the volunteers to write in their comments if you like.  Think of your own ideas for the day.   Add stuff to this and enjoy.


Have a meeting if you like.  Here’s a report created in 2014 for Hackney

The Christmas Dinner is defined by six elements. They are:  Venue & design,  Food, chef & Maitre’d,  Transport,   Referrals,  Volunteers,  Presents.      The aim is  to provide a scrumptious magical Christmas day dinner for Care leavers aged between 18 and 25 on Christmas day.  Too often Christmas day is a reminder of   everything they never had. Often it’s a dreaded day. The Christmas Dinner is a life changing, lifesaving experience of warmth in abundance.  A time to have a good laugh, make new friends and feel valued.  It will be a safe and welcoming place for Care leavers to spend Christmas day: a great Christmas meal, lovely gifts and festive fun. Right. let’s begin


20 thoughts on “The Christmas Dinner How To Guide for Care Leavers 2017.”

  1. Would love to help in Liverpool. Can you put me in touch with the ‘guys’ who are organising it. Me and my daughter are available. Please contact me 078179571898.
    Julie & Esmerelda

  2. would like to put on a Christmas Dinner or help in the West Suffolk region. Is there one established already? If not, is it as “simple” as just starting this next September?

    1. Get the Brand New How To Guide from and read it. Then ask people who might be interested. Collect their details this year and then get them together in September.

        1. Hey. You are there. It’s all about the team. Obviously there must be a difference between west and east sussex. You’ll know there is an east sussex Christmas Dinner. They have had very little contact with me. It’s all in the how to guide.

        1. Jennifer it’s now all about setting up a team to join those sites. I suggest you let it all go until July. And then start gathering momentum. But if you think it’s good now then go for it. You have the how to guide. Get yourself a team. THAT is the most important thing.

          1. hi Collette, when you say you’re keen to be a part, do you mean to start up in Cambridge or keen to help in WestSuffolk? If keen to help TCDWestSuffolk, that would be wonderful and please email me your contact details to

  3. I’ve searched twitter for “Bristol Christmas Dinner”, there seems not to be one. I don’t want to go at it half cooked, am I right that there’s none here, in Bristol yet? Thank you for your inspiration.

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