Help, It’s Christmas
Just over two weeks since an anti-homeless ramp was installed on Castle Street, the people of Liverpool have spoken…and they have a lot to say.
Many condemned the slope as an unjust attack on the compassionate stance that Liverpool holds dear, ‘a scar on the face of Liverpool’. On the run up to Christmas: when temperatures plummet and ‘good will and cheer’ are meant to be the go-to ideology – this just didn’t feel good enough.
Although the controversial ramp atop the steps of the former Bank of England has since been taken down, a group of volunteers congregated at these steps, prior to its dismantle, to hand out warm food, drinks and clothing to rough sleepers no doubt affected by the slope.
The compassionate act, by a group who describe themselves as humanitarians, told the country that the slope is not who we are, we do not stand for isolation and inaction. We are a city of real and raw humanity – we don’t stay quiet, we don’t ignore, we love, and we’re not afraid to do it too.
People are amazing, but unfortunately life can draw some people a devastating hand. Let’s get that Christmas ideology of love and good-will to all back in the game and find the amazing people out there, in our city, that practice what they preach. Find your Inner power by helping others, and let’s join them in asking those who need our support: what can we do to help you?
The Christmas Dinner
You may recognise Lemn Sissay’s name; an award-winning author, broadcaster, an MBE holder for Services to Literature and, since 2015, an elected University of Manchester chancellor. He even holds the title of becoming the first poet commissioned to write for the 2012 London Olympics. Though the picture paints bright now, the beginning of his story casts an early dark shadow.
At only a few months old he was temporarily fostered, spending years in the home of a deeply religious white foster family who denounced his birth name, coaxing the young boy to grow up believing his name was Norman Mark Greenwood. At 12, the family announced they were sending him to a children’s home and cut off all contact with the young Sissay; carted from homes to foster placements in Wigan, he ended up at the notorious assessment centre Wood End, which is now being investigated for more than 40 complaints of physical and sexual abuse. Pair that with abhorrent racism, this story continues darkly – for now.
Now in contact with his birth family and his true name, Lemn has defied the odds and beat an unrelenting system that many once bright futures fall victim to. Though the tables have seemingly turned, Lemn frequently returns to his painful early years through his plays, projects, poems and documentaries; a cathartic eye-opener of the realities for kids in care and the frequently heart-breaking aftermath.
One of the most difficult times for someone leaving care is Christmas. An annual reminder to everyone that family is everything – but what happens when there is no family? Where do you belong? Lemn remembers the loneliness and the isolation he felt once he left care, and he’s doing something about it.
Designed to give young people between the ages of 18 and 25 a sense of belonging within their community; a hearty meal amongst big hearted people, The Christmas Dinner is here.
Featured in The Observer as one of fifty new radical ideas, the concept is run entirely by volunteers who source everything from venues, transport, food, drinks and presents, and has been going since 2013 in Manchester, spreading now to London, Oxford, Leeds and Liverpool.
The Christmas Dinner is as close to anything you’d expect from the perfect day, with presents, taxis to pick up and drop off guests, a professional chef, top class food and waiter service, holiday food to take home, games for the day and even a film showing. But where do you start?
The plan all begins with a steering group to get the ball rolling, who meet in late September/early October and in the run up to Christmas. With at least 100 years of professional experience of working with young people between them – artists, theatre people, social work professionals, teachers and doctors – the group displays a healthy cross-pollination between creatives and care practitioners. The result? A welcoming and passionate collection of salt-of-the-earth people – but don’t be fooled – they know how to get things done.
After hearing a performance by Lemn in Everton Park and Liverpool city council pulling out the stops to hold a Christmas Breakfast for care leavers last year, this Christmas, Liverpool is holding its own Christmas Dinner.
Highly-acclaimed chef Paul Askew, who is central to the culinary identity of The London Carriage Works, is already on board to help other food producers with the food, while the city’s team of volunteers are sourcing absolutely everything for the event; from food, transport, wrapping presents and hosting the Christmas Dinner, to decorating the secret venue in all its merry entirety. Everton in the Community, Liverpool City Council, Squash Nutrition, Liverpool Studio School, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse have also stepped up to get involved in this year’s dinner.
Don’t mistake the project for a charity, a Social Enterprise, or even an organisation. There are no admin costs, no worker costs; the primary aim is that the community takes responsibility for the care leaver on Christmas Day. This is all about inclusiveness and a welcoming hand to say: ‘It’s okay, we’ve got you. This is your Christmas too’.
Now Lemn is turning to you: the good people, the good business of Liverpool.
What Can I Do?
Presents do not just magic out of the air like we once thought as kids. These presents are relying on locally as well as nationally crowdfunding donations, campaigns and of course, the will of others.
So Lemn has got this to say: “Everything on the day is donated. Businesses can help by either supporting with money or buying gifts, think about the Christmas Days you had when you were little, think about the ones your families and friends enjoy. Then, think if you never knew what that was like. What would you want to give to change that?”
“It can be small, it can be big, but at Christmas we think about those in our societies and in our communities that need love and care. If we look after every one of our young people, they’ll be able to pass that love and memories onto their own children and families.”
Picking presents can be tricky, so there’s an Amazon wish list here to give you some inspo.
The list features a range of different gifts for over 60 care leavers that will be coming to Liverpool’s amazing Christmas dinner. From beanbags to portable speakers, perfumes, aftershaves and even mermaid blankets, there’s plenty to choose from to make someone’s Christmas.
Lemn stresses that action is everything. So if presents just aren’t cutting it for you, get serious and organise your own Christmas Dinner for 2017 with Lemn’s help here. It’ll take work, time and guts – but that’s nothing the people of Liverpool can’t handle.
The Whitechapel Centre
Homelessness is a crisis. It’s on the rise, with 2015 stats showing around 3,569 people were sleeping rough on any one night across England; 30% more than the previous year and double the amount since only 2010. Being without a warm, safe environment at Christmas time seems to be the stuff of nightmares – but there are some amazing people around that want to see these staggering figures fall to dust.
Started in 1975 to combat homelessness, social exclusion and housing poverty in Liverpool, The Whitechapel Centre on Langsdale Street has become a lifeline for many, and a high-profile name for those seeking an honest and committed charity in Merseyside. Challenges are aplenty, but their mission stays true.
While donating relieves the brunt to such tragedies temporarily, it offers little solution to an extremely large and ever-growing problem. Whitechapel see people through the tricky journey from rough sleeping and street living, to employment and independently living back within their community. They have built their applaudable reputation through providing tailor-made daily practical and realistic activities and support to build confidence, skills and capability for anyone that needs it. Whitechapel are ushering empowerment at the forefront to beginning the road to understanding and combatting homelessness, enabling people to live independently and achieve their own potential. Everyone’s journey is different.
What Can I Do?
There are no Christmas breaks for those who sleep rough, so The Whitechapel Centre take no breaks in offering undivided support and advice over the festive period either. Last year the centre gave their services to over 2,800 people whose lives changed tragically, and there’s no chance of slowing down their feat. Like past Christmas’s, rough sleepers are served breakfast on Christmas Day, and there’s Christmas Lunch for the centre’s service users. So now, what we really want to know is, what can we do?
Tell them about a rough sleeper
If you’re worried about someone sleeping rough or someone that could use some help, support the national No Second Night Out On the Streets campaign and call 0151 207 7617.
Donate a One-off Gift
There are three different options here: £10 can pay for a month of internet connection to get people in contact with family, jobs and welfare; £25 can get someone sleeping rough breakfast, lunch and a gift on Christmas; £50 can help fund the Cold Weather Shelter – a place that welcomes rough sleepers on nights when the temperature hits 0°C or lower for 3 consecutive nights. All are precious offerings to encourage people back on their feet and make them aware of a loving community that will always be here to look out for them.
Again, three options are yours: £5 each month can get someone work boots and safety gear to aid the transition into work; £10 ensures that the centre’s heating is on, and the showers are always hot, while £25 a month promises to fund one to one sessions with the centre’s Learning and Employability mentor.
Give Useful Items
Food, decorations and gifts are all absolutely welcomed by the shelter at this time of year. With the centre open through Christmas Day and Boxing Day to provide lunches, it’s a great help to know that anything to make a person’s day brighter is on its way. Here at It’s Liverpool HQ we’ve got a box full of some of the most needed items at the minute: underwear, toiletries, warm clothing, food; you name it. Donations deadline is Friday 23rd December 2016. Just grab some stuff and get in touch.
Christmas is a busy time regardless of your circumstance, and charities like The Whitechapel Centre rely more on more on the compassion and the precious time of volunteers. Receiving, sorting and distributing donations are the main tasks; do you look good in a Christmas Elf costume? Well got on board…because The Whitechapel Centre need their Little Helpers.
It was MerseyAid’s motto ‘Find your Inner power by helping others’ that we mentioned way back in the intro, and the ladies behind the Merseyside group are certainly a powerful force to be reckoned with.
After seeing a photo of a father desperately trying to cling onto his child in Greece, mother of two Genna Rourke took action: Cue 2015 and the beginning of MerseyAid. With the view of a trip to France, the group became an overnight success with Genna quickly realising the amazing response meant that the group could not only offer to support to refugees abroad, but also to local people within our community. It is aid for a reason – it does not criticise whether you are here or abroad.
Their commitment not only comes in the form of offering care and advice to those who are crossing Europe due to displacement because of conflict and persecution, but through providing assistance to those who arrive in Merseyside, often empty handed and estranged from family, paving the way for them to integrate into their new community.
With the passion and dedication of the team – which now includes Nadine and Susan – over four containers of aid including an ambulance, incubators, medical, clothes and food have been sent to refugee zones in France and Greece, as well as lifesaving equipment to boats and vans across Europe. Closer to home, the group have donated locally to the Whitechapel Centre, MRANG, food banks and refuges for women – with constant donations being sent to distribute over these difficult winter months to those out on the streets.
For the ladies, juggling kids and full time jobs certainly doesn’t quiet the fire – it’s full speed ahead.
Speaking to Genna, she had this to say: “Of course it’s a 24/7 job, but we do it because we want to help. We want to be on the right side of history; we want to spread a legacy to our kids so they grow up with compassion and care for all; we want young people to feel motivated and inspired to help all, and one of our aims has always been to provide a vessel for those that want to help people but don’t know how to, or where to start. We hope we are helping people across Merseyside to be involved in an amazing movement.”
“We work closely with other groups across the UK proving that grass roots groups can do amazing things with no overheads, no wage bills…just bloody hard work, love, little red tape, compassion and a willingness to just do! We are all new to this, none of us have experience. Everything is a learning curve, everything is trial and error, but we learn, we share experiences and we all work together. We have made amazing friends across the globe – What a thing to be a part of!”
No need is too small and no voice is too quiet to be heard. These ladies have made a promise to give everyone the time and energy that is necessary to educate, advocate and feed. Gemm, Nadine and Susan, you are incredible.
So, What Can I Do?
Bags of Love
Like the Shoe Box Appeals from Operation Christmas Child, MerseyAid’s next mission is ‘Bags of Love’. Personally requested by Syrian doctors, the bags are designed to offer comfort to the children, and a much needed distraction when airstrikes and chaos is happening around them. On the hunt for around 1000, the team have white drawstring/duffle bags that are waiting to be stuffed full of cuddle toys, crayons, outdoor toys and a picture by the child (or adult) that filled the bag of love for them.
Raise those Funds
Unfortunately, money doesn’t grow on trees – but that doesn’t mean it can’t appear from somewhere. You can collect donations for MerseyAid by organising events and creating challenges for yourself to raise funds for your chosen cause. MyDonate is a fantastic website that can get you going on your fundraising journey; 0% commission. No set up fees or monthly charges. Just love and a belly full of fire should do it.
Constantly under pressure from increased injuries, air strikes and bombings wiping out medical centres and hospitals, the ladies are looking to raise a minimum of £1500 for medical teams over in Syria. The medical aid will to be sent to Syria to send an anaesthesia workstation to one of the hospitals in desperate need; more information here.
Since the formidable Calais jungle closed, Paris has seen a phenomenal influx of families who have had to resort to living on the city’s streets. So the team are also accepting any donations for Paris in the form of clothing, as well as medical donations for common illnesses like cold and flu over the harsh winter. This is also the case for those living on Liverpool’s streets – these donations are not exclusive. Liverpool is our home – so let’s send love to those who no longer have theirs.
MerseyAid’s main depots are Wallasey and Huyton, but collection points are dotted around other places…just get in touch with the ladies here to find out more.