We all like to think that we’ll be with our family and friends at Christmas. Some of us, through no fault of our own are simply not that lucky. In 2013, poet Lemn Sissay MBE, founded The Christmas Dinner, specifically to be held for young people leaving the Care System. Currently, 1 in 5 young people will find themselves homeless within 2 years of leaving the state system. Having been in the system himself, Lemn wanted to engage local communities and encourage them to take responsibility for young people in their area. The first Christmas Dinner was hosted in 2013, in Manchester, and attended by 50 invited care leavers from the local community.
Each dinner is organised locally and run by volunteers for approximately 50 young people. Food, presents and decorations etc are donated by local businesses, organisations and individuals wherever possible or paid for from cash donations. On this one day, every effort is made to ensure the attendees feel and experience what we have come to expect in our own homes, so only the best will do; diners are taxied to and from their day’s secret destination, not just for a meal but for a whole day of entertainment.
Lemn was a child in care himself; aged just 12 he was returned to the state by those who had adopted him as a baby. All he wanted was a hug, some loving care. He left the system when he was 18 years old, later searching for, and finding his birth family. In 2017, Lemn established his Foundation, dedicated to offering support to individuals and agencies working to address the disadvantages faced by those in care and young adult care leavers. He became the first official Olympic Poet at the London 2012 Games and is currently Chancellor of the University of Manchester. He is also Canterbury’s Poet Laureate.
Knowing the comfort a quilt can bring, hearing him tell his story inspired me to offer to make quilts to be gifted to the diners; a quilt-y hug and lasting memento of the day. This is what I do for my family and special friends, and possibly you do too?
Can you help? Will you make quilt blocks 6.5” or 12.5” (unfinished – rail fence or log cabin)? Or do you have a quilt or top you would like to donate (preferably no smaller than 44”x 60”)? Please remember these are young adults. This would be ideal for scrappy quilts. Blocks or tops will be welcome by 23 November and any full completed quilts by 15 December.
This year, with your help, Leeds and Manchester are the recipients, essentially because those are cities that I have personal links with. Both of the organising committees are excited about this project. In coming years with your support, I’d like to be able to expand the offer to other cities holding dinners but I’ll start small.