A Christmas Day Dinner for care leavers in Hackney which is hosted by award winning poet and author Lemn Sissay is appealling to the public to donate gifts.
Sissay told Eastlondonlines that he began hosting the Hackney Christmas Dinner because of the loneliness he felt growing up in care, across four different homes in Wigan 1970s and 1980s which he wrote about his 2019 memoir My Name is Why.. “Christmas was the worst day ever, and was a reminder of everything I never had.”
The Dinner, which is run by volunteers provides a lunch for care leavers, aged 17 to 25, on December 25 and is appealling for the public to purchase a gift for a care leaver that can be opened on Christmas Day. The guest list is limited to 50 and the location is secret.
Sissay hosted the first dinner in Manchester in 2013. In 2015, he extended the event into Hackney.
He said that he “wishes everyone could have a Christmas day to remember”, noting that his complete lack of memories about Christmas, positive or negative, made him sad.
Sissay currently has a four-part series on BBC Radio 4 where he explores what the Hackney Christmas Dinner has taught him about charity, social enterprise, and people.
A spokesperson for the Hackney Christmas Dinner told Eastlondonlines that the dinner was also inspired by the Topé Project, a not-for-profit organization that commemorates Topé, a 23-year-old care leaver who committed suicide after suffering from immense loneliness.
“People in care are incredible because they deal with the darkest situation with incredible light,” the spokesperson said. “We want to pay homage to them on the day that many feel at their darkest.”
In a video, attendees spoke about the event and what it meant to them. One said: “I would’ve been on my own. I would’ve been very lonely.” Another said: “I’ve been made to feel really special today.”
The event relies entirely on volunteers and community generosity. Volunteersn decorate the venue and wrap the presents for the care leavers, donated from the community.