Hackney charity calling on volunteers to help create virtual Christmas dinner

Hackney Christmas Dinner. Pic: Andrew Leo photography

A charity running a virtual Christmas dinner for care leavers in east London has put out an appeal for volunteers to help deliver their event. 

The Hackney Christmas dinner, a grass-roots group set up by award-winning poet and care leaver Lemn Sissay, needs drivers, fundraisers, activity organisers and entertainers for the event which brings together care leavers annually.

Suzanne Carey, head of Media and Communications at The Hackney Christmas Dinner, said: “Local lockdowns and distancing measures means it’s just not possible to meet up in person this year,”

Carey told Eastlondonlines: “We’re all working really hard to come up with an alternative: we’ll deliver an equally beautiful event in a box, packed full of presents and goodies – we’re taking Christmas online. Giving care leavers a safe space to come and connect with other young people, play games and have fun”.

The charity has previously hosted up to 50 guests in person on Christmas day providing care leavers aged 18 to 25 with gifts, dinner and most importantly companionship

Care leavers at Hackney Christmas Dinner. Pic: Andrew Leo photography

A care leaver is a young person who has spent time living in the care system and has recently made the move to live independently, and as a result, may find themselves alone for the first time this Christmas. 

Naomi DePeza, volunteer, head of Concept and Design at Hackney X-mas Dinner and daytime teacher, brands the project as worthwhile and reaping huge rewards.

DePeza said: “Being part of a team of volunteers where everyone brings their expertise and specialist skills to make the care leavers Christmas Day special is really fabulous. The sense of purpose, humour and goodwill is palpable.”

Volunteers at the Hackney Christmas Dinner. Pic: Andrew Leo photography

Carey said one of the biggest changes this year would be needing a bigger transport team on Christmas day for packing and transporting boxes to deliver the new at-home-experience. 

“We’re looking for passionate activity leaders to organise and host short online events on Christmas Day. We also need volunteers to get involved in guest referrals and safeguarding.”

Care packages at Hackney Christmas Dinner. Pic: Andrew Leo photography

Founder and care leaver, Lemn Sissay, said: “From a personal perspective, Christmas was the most difficult time of the year, because it was a reminder of everything I’d never had. So, the closer Christmas came, the closer I felt that I was moving towards my loss – family. The more excited other people got about Christmas, the more difficult it was for me, because I would be reminded of everything that I didn’t have.”

DePeza said: “The most important thing is keeping everyone safe, which gave us the alternative idea of creating something tangible and equally memorable. Using Zoom to some extent on Christmas Day too will allow the care leavers to share their experiences and still feel some kind of connection.”

Carey reiterated that recreating the in-person experience of previous years was going to be difficult, and the group are working to put a system in place to create an equally special digital experience. 

As well as volunteers the group are also in need of donations more than ever this year.

Carey said: “One of the challenges is the digital divide. How can we guarantee each care leaver will have access to a computer or the internet connection to use it? That’s why, as well as presents this year, we’re raising funds to provide every young person with a laptop or tablet device, and data package, so that they have a guaranteed way to get online on Christmas Day and beyond.’’ 

The group have already been shown a lot of support and even received celebrity endorsement.

Carey told EastLondonLines: “One fun thing that happened last week: Tinie Tempah got involved!”. 

The ‘Pass Out’ rapper who spent time growing up in Hackney has matched every donation so far, in showing his support for the appeal and has spoken of working with different groups around London supporting care leavers in the coming months.

Founded in Manchester in 2013, the group has since continued to create a safe space for young care-leavers to spend Christmas day.

The initiative now reaches across the UK and runs in seventeen different locations.

The Hackney X-mas dinner highlights the importance of community at present. The initiative relies 100% on volunteers and donation and this year is facing if toughest challenge yet. 

To get involved in volunteering, email: hackneyxmasdinner@gmail.com

Or complete the registration form:

To donate, click here.

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