Cut The Strip Lights It’s Christmas

The Christmas Dinner is on Christmas Day because THAT is the day care leavers need it most.  From Canterbury to Stockport, from Hull to Hackney there `are seventeen Christmas Dinners for care leavers this year. Seventeen.  

When I saw The Christmas Dinner for Care Leavers in 2012 (run by Tope Project  ) I knew. I just knew. And so in 2013 after respectfully seeking guidance I got a steering group together in Manchester. That was the first.

My aim from the start was that the Christmas Dinners would grow but there would be no head and no central organisation. Each steering group would be started in each area with dedicated people from the area & The How To Guide: Community and Action. They are accountable to the aims and each other.

Sound impossible? It isn’t.  Look at The How To Guide  and you’ll see the steering groups  extreme attention to detail: All Kitchens must be accredited, the venue must have public liability Insurance,  referral forms for the young people, volunteer forms for the volunteers. The list goes on. And we have the templates for you. 

Most steering groups have over an hundred years of experience of working with young people.  They start with one dedicated person.  But here’s the thing:   The steering groups need creatives, artists, poets, actors, theatre directors, set designers as much as it needs people who have worked in other fields.

Some steering groups seem to miss out on this. But it’s crucial.  It’s about detail. It’s the set designer, the video maker, the cartoonist who will notice that, for example, strip lights are HORRID. Nothing that a few Gels can’t remedy.   The smell of Christmas, the lighting, the design are all crucial and easy to scrimp on. 

If it were up to me there’d be no need to fundraise. I didn’t want steering groups to be consumed by the idea that money was a measure of their success which is why we fundraise centrally. – Our success is measured by delivering a perfect day for the young people. 

The money we raise is contingency money for each dinner because the idea is that we give the wider community the chance to care for the care leaver in their  midst.  If it was all about money the young ‘care leaver’  wouldn’t be playing snooker with steve davis, more of which later.

In practise Steering Groups do it their way.  As I am not the boss it’s not my job to step in. I’ve learned the hard way that offering advice can be received in all kinds of ways. Who does that Lemn Sissay think he is.

One of the first casualties of institutionalisation and empirical structures  is kindness the second casualty is  openness.  Be that as it is may The Christmas Dinner Teams across the country are united by  openess and kindness to each other and  have inspired many in the community with a kind of Magic.

The knock on effect is astounding. The Manchester City & United Chef  Phil Prince cooked for Manchester Christmas Dinners for three years. Paul Askew one of the North West’s most popular chefs  helps the Christmas Dinners in Liverpool and Wirral. Baileys Turkeys in Cheshire have always given Turkeys to Manchester Christmas Dinner. None of them asked for anything in return except that the young people enjoy the day.

One of the Christmas Dinner rules is there’s no cutting corners. The young people get the best for one day. We do everything to facilitate a memory that they can look back on and feel whole.   In 2016 all the steering groups came together in Southend to compare notes, thanks to Metal.  The How To Guide was fine tuned.

There’s many stories of extras.  The homeless care leaver  who loved snooker.  We got him a cue signed by Steve Davis as a Christmas Present.  Then a meeting with Steve Davis and THEN he was offered a job at the snooker club!

Professional stylist,  Subrina Kidd, sets up a fully working Salon  in Hackney with her professional  colleagues. Their hearts are bursting with kindness. They give professional styling to the young people.  It’s busts my heart open.

Subrina, who works on photoshoots with the likes of Jennifer Hudson suggested to one  care leaver that she tried modelling.  Subrina had the numbers of industry agencies.  Today the care leaver  is leading campaigns by international fashion designers. She is employed and earning money all due to an interaction with Subrina on Christmas Day.  Her posters are all over London and no doubt the world.   

A Scottish Piper started one Christmas Dinner in Manchester. A local  BBC radio DJ  played music throughout the Leeds Christmas Dinner.   BBC Radio 6  DJ Mary Anne Hobbs came up with the idea of The Past Present and The Gift which was the most beautiful DJ  (experience) I have ever……. experienced.

Nitin Ganatra (from Eastenders) came down and spent three hours, THREE HOURS hanging out and eating with us. The Young People where besides themselves “you came. On this day.”

I got to thank my close friend Sally Abbott: Each year Sally makes a three minute ideo which includes stars like Keith Lemon, Hollie Willoughby,  Sally Lindsay, Angela Griffith, actors from all the soaps and they wish merry christmas to the care elavers. It gets me every time. Makes me weep. Damnit. It does.  Anyway I should end this blog.  So let me end on this. It’s Subrina Kidd working on Jennifer Hudson for The Voice.

Subrina  is extraordinary.  She’s industry best with a powerful heart. And she has spent the last few christmas days  making young care leavers between 18 and 25 really happy. Here she is again with the woman who fostered her. We are bridges to better lives, to better selves and better days – that’s what we encourage at the christmas dinner.

7 thoughts on “Cut The Strip Lights It’s Christmas”

  1. Lemn these Christmas Dinners are really amazing. They are incredibly important for young care leavers who deserve an unforgettable day. But it’s also the business model that is fantastic. Rarely seen volunteers and professionals, ‘normal’ people and famous stars work together for the same cause. All inspired by you, you as a charismatic leader but not the boss! I liked the stories of care leavers who were given a work opportunity thanks to Christmas dinner’s contacts. Have you thought about helping them stay in touch? If I were in the UK, I’d volunteer without any doubts. I’ll donate again, because money is not the main issue, but always helps! Antonella

    1. Antonella you are kind hearted and THANKYOU. SO MUCH. Rather than keep them all in touch I’d rather do one thing well. I’ve seen it spill over and it’s not for us to do. We need to keep focussed on doing one day well. I wish there was some way of academically being able to account for what is happening.I’m sure its a research project waiting to happen. Thanks for your feedback though Lemn

  2. Inspiring words Lemm. It’s my first Year on the Brum Xmas Dinner steering group and we have found an absolutely magical venue (which I obvs can’t divulge at this point!) The only yucky strip lights are in the kitchen. I totally agree that the devil is in the detail – beautiful place settings, scented candles, music, all those layers are so crucial.

    1. Ahhh all kitchens actually need the strip lights.I TOTES agree with strip lights in the kitchen – Maybe I should amend the blog. It’s great to hear you. It’s a wonderful thing what’s going on in Birmingham last year and this.

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