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Lemn Sissay’s Hackney Christmas Dinner for care leavers: ‘It’s about respect’

PUBLISHED: 08:00 07 December 2017 | UPDATED: 10:43 08 December 2017

Hackney care leavers' Christmas dinner

Hackney care leavers' Christmas dinner

Archant

Christmas can be a difficult time for care leavers, says Lemn Sissay. That’s why he decided to start organising Christmas dinners for them

Lemn Sissay wrapping presents for the Christmas Dinner last year Lemn Sissay wrapping presents for the Christmas Dinner last year

“It begins with the adverts,” says poet Lemn Sissay. “The adverts promote a familial structure which was slightly alien to my experiences, so as soon as the adverts began I would have a quiet sense of loss.”

Lemn grew up in care and, like many young people now, found Christmas a difficult time.

“It would build and build as Christmas became closer and closer. And become louder and louder as the day came closer. So I did all kinds of things to compensate but couldn’t get away from the fact that all that Christmas is is a collection of memories of Christmases before.”

So in 2013 in Manchester, Lemn came up with the idea to host a Christmas dinner for care leavers. Just four years later, it’s all over the country. £25,000 has been raised through Crowdfunder for 11 dinners in cities, where volunteer teams are preparing an unforgettable day for groups of care leavers. One of those teams is Hackney.

Lemn Sissay - Hackney care leavers' Christmas dinner Lemn Sissay - Hackney care leavers' Christmas dinner

“We’re trying to create positive memories for brilliant people,” says Lemn.

Care leavers (between ages of 18 and 25) are among the most vulnerable in society, often finding themselves without a support network. The Hackney dinner will give them a great meal, great company and, most importantly, something to remember.

“Hackney has been such an incredible force for good,” he says. “The steering group are made up of social workers, people that work for Hackney Council – in their own time by the way, they’re not there as workers – and artists and creatives and designers.”

The lead for the Hackney steering group this year is Lisa Murphy, who has been on the team for a few years but is taking the reigns for the first time this Christmas.

“This is going to be my first year seeing it happen, which is amazing,” she says. “It’s very much a community project of the people, by the people, for the people.

“There’s no scrimping or saving.”

Among the volunteers is Hackney-based stylist Subrina Kidd, who is running a pop up salon on the day, a great success at last year’s dinner. Abel&Cole are providing fruit and veg; Mermaid Fabrics in Mare Street have donated towards decorations; Coop is giving food so the young people have a take-home bag for the rest of the holidays.

“This is not about them telling me their stories, young people talking about the darkness and light of their experiences,” says Lemn. “It’s primarily about serving them. It’s about the community around them serving them.”

Lisa adds: “That’s what I love about Lemn; there’s no charity here. It’s about respect. It’s about saying that there are people in the world that don’t have the experiences we can access on Christmas Day and it is our responsibility to change that if we can.”

Getting involved

You can find all the details of the Hackney Christmas Dinner on their Facebook page. There are many ways to get involved. There’s a gift list, where you can buy presents for the care leavers. You can still donate to the Crowdfunder (unused funds will go towards next year’s dinners). Volunteers for Christmas Day are also needed – there are application forms on the Facebook group and Lisa has also expressed interest in having a nail technician to give manicures.

Gift list can be found here

Contact the steering group at:

facebook.com/groups/HackXmas/

Donate to the crowdfunder:

crowdfunder.co.uk/the-christmas-dinner-2017

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