‘You feel like you belong’ – fundraising underway to give unforgettable Christmas to young care leavers

By Anna Mackenzie
November 2 2019, 12.45

The award-winning Richmond Christmas Day Dinner is fundraising to create an unforgettable festive experience for young care leavers.

The volunteer-run event creates memorable experiences for young people between 18 – 25 who have been through the care system.

The project was initiated by nurse and Twickenham resident Sian Thomas in 2017 to combat the number of care leavers who spend Christmas alone each year.

She said: “For young people to know there is somewhere to go if they want, where they will be loved and welcomed, that feeling is worth more than money can buy.”

The event, which won the 2019 Richmond Council community project of the year, is reliant on community donations of time and money.

Organisers are appealing for presents and volunteer helpers including gift wrappers and a chef to help prepare the festive dinner from food donated by community supermarkets.

Care leaver Whitney, 21, was a guest at last year’s dinner and said it was one of the best Christmases she has ever had.

She said: “The amount of love, – and I think love is a strong word, and one that isn’t talked about enough – I think that’s displayed very highly.

“You’re with people and you actually feel like you belong and you are somebody, and you’re not just a number on a list.”

Sian is quick to point out that the day is not just a special event for the young guests, but for volunteers too.

She said: “I’ve been involved for 3 years, and it’s some of the best Christmases I’ve ever had. I certainly have never felt I’ve given up anything, I’m just gaining.”

On December 25, an organised taxi service will transport between 50 – 60 guests to a surprise venue in the heart of Richmond.

The festivities comprise a traditional Christmas dinner and special activities such as games, hair styling, a photo booth and film screenings.

Sian said: “We go as high end as we can possibly afford so that these young people have the best presents, the best company, the best food. It’s not about doing ‘good enough’ for them.”

The event is modelled on an annual project of the same name which was founded by poet Lemn Sissay in 2013.

This year, 22 groups around the UK are taking part.

Find out more about The Christmas Day Dinner Richmond and how to donate here.

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