Something to create a bit of warmth in the middle of a cold and damp January: Colette shares how the Manchester Christmas Dinner project used their Innovation Partnership Fund application to make the ultimate Christmas for young care leavers.
“I got involved with The Christmas Dinner Project (TCD) three years ago. My reasons for getting involved weren’t initially out of a want to give back, it was actually that I didn’t want to face another year of feeling like the odd one out.
I’d spent time in care as a child and found the festive season a real challenge. It magnified everything I didn’t have; a close-knit family, money for gifts and fancy food, a roof over my head or a place at someone else’s table.
That first year changed my outlook on the holiday and now, as soon as September comes around, there’s a bounce in my step.
TCD exists to make memories… wonderful, love-filled memories to cherish and look back on in later years. The venue, food, gifts, transport, hosts, volunteers and activities are all donated by organisations and generous individuals.
The steering group is made up of professionals and inspired by Manchester poet Lemn Sissay who himself was brought up in the care system before going on to become The Chancellor of Manchester University. Moving forward I was asked to be a member of the group and I made it my mission to empower young people to get involved in shaping their event. I wanted to know how they wanted their perfect Christmas to look and feel. Who were we to say how that should look?!
After meeting with a young woman who’d attended TCD in previous years (we were to be interviewed from The Waitrose Weekend magazine: raising awareness of TCD project), Amy told me what she liked and what she would change about the activities on the day. Some of the ideas she gave were genius and I remember spending the bus ride home mulling it over and wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” but how could I? I am nearly 50 years old and wouldn’t have a clue what young people do for fun!
One thing she said stuck with me. “My first time at TCD was overwhelming. I wasn’t feeling confident in myself and found it hard to really get involved in the party atmosphere. I wanted to get up on the karaoke but felt too shy. Last year, I got up and sang in front of people, it felt amazing”. I asked what was different and she replied simply with “Glitter!” That year we’d had donations of false eyelashes, glitter, body tattoo’s and jewels by the company Eyelure. It had been a massive hit with everyone, including kitchen team and hosts. Who knew such small things would make such a massive difference!
Building on this I approached the Inspiring Change Manchester Innovation Partnership Fund to access funds to make this possible again for young people for Christmas 2017. ICM awarded us £500 to host a pre-party pamper day on 15th December at The Manchester College. The beauty and hair departments went all out to give our young guests a real confidence boost. Nothing was too much and the college wouldn’t let us pay anything towards the treatments.
I learned a lot from that day. A key thing was that, depending on a care leaver’s postcode, the difference in the amount and range of support on offer to these young people was astounding. Some got lots and were well supported, while others got hardly anything and had to fight for every last thing. It gave me a new determination to make all these people feel special.
One guest Sammia: sent me this message after the pamper day ” Thanks to TCD team for inviting me to the pamper day at TMC. It was amazing, I really had a fab time meeting other people. I enjoyed getting my hair and nails done. My hair took two-and-a-half hours to complete, with two students’ taking the time and effort to do this for me. I appreciate everything, thank you”.
And to top it off, on Christmas day, our lovely young guests got primped and preened by our multi-talented team of hosts. Nails, hair, glitter, makeup and eyelashes made for a colourful, confidence filled day for some very deserving young people.
Have a look at the video made on Christmas day. I’m sure after watching it, you’ll understand why I am so passionate about the event, making sure all the small details are just right makes for a wonderful day and happy smiling guests.
Thank you, Shelter and Inspiring Change Manchester, for supporting us to make an awesomely glittery day happen for young people that have already overcome so much in their lives. You Rock!!”