Guest post from Rosie Canning, Writer, Campaigner and PHD Student researching the representation of care leavers in fiction.
It is that time of year again. The season to be jolly. It doesn’t matter how old you are, when you have the trauma of unhappy childhood Christmasses behind you, it is still difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. I always seem tiptoe into Christmas. Even now, I find myself yearning for some distant family get-together; looking in people’s lighted windows, catching glimpses of decorated trees always yearning for that home I never had. My Hiraeth moments that can overwhelm at this time of year.
When my children were younger it seemed easier because I could hide behind the joy of buying presents, decorating the tree, cooking the Christmas dinner and all the other events that led to exhaustion and non-thinking. And even though it was crazy in my house with five children, there were always times when I couldn’t quite contain ‘those’ feelings, the ones that overwhelmed and left me emotionally paralysed. That made me want to run away and hide under a bed. Balloons, booze and cigars, all contributing to memories of a not so jolly time.
More than ever as I hear the stories of other care leavers around me, as I learn more about a system that continues to churn out traumatised children, I feel my heart cracking and have tears in the very fibre of my spirit.
We know that Christmas is a special time. And it’s also just another day, why should it matter if one is alone? For those that have spent Christmas on their own, not out of choice, they will know how difficult it can be. When I was 17 and in a bedsit in Muswell Hill, a young care leaver, I spent Christmas on my own. The first one away from the children’s home where I had lived for the previous eight years. I didn’t know what to do with myself and spent most of the day hidden under the bedclothes. It was a very sad time. The time of peace and goodwill to all men, the time when even the soldiers in WW1 stopped fighting.
I mention these memories because there will be many people dreading Christmas this year. Many more on the streets due to the draconian measures being implented by this government, and many who look in shop windows or other people’s homes that are filled with light and Christmas trees and yearn for love and family.
Christmas began over 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born and the three kings brought their gifts to celebrate the birth of a king. That is why we celebrate Christmas. That is why we want to be kind to each other and spend time with family (if you have one) and to get away from the materialistic aspects that have been created by the money monsters.
To help others is a way to combat ‘those’ feelings and to help care leavers gives me a great big thwack of happiness. This year I am again helping Lemn Sissay’s Hackney Christmas Dinner team create a special time on Christmas Day for some of the young people that have gone through the care system and are still alive. They too will be dreading Christmas, possily because of old memories, possibly because they don’t have a family or a home, possibly because they just don’t want to be alone. It will cost me nothing, just my time which I give with a full heart of love and care.
The Christmas Dinners for care leavers was started by The Tope Project. Tope was a young man who meant so much to so many, especially children and young people who looked up to him. Tope was brought up in care and sadly took his own life.
Friends of his were devastated but determined to turn pain into positivity so The Tope Project was born. The Tope project organise a big free positive event for care leavers to combat isolation at Christmas. The Tope Project is entirely run by volunteers and is entirely dependent on donations and gifts.
We often hear negative reports about care leavers, but these are such positive stories. The amount of work being done out there by care leavers for care leavers is amazing. The volunteers behind the Christmas dinners are absolutely fabulous, caring and kind and many of them are care experienced themselves.
Lemn says: “This year 2017, volunteer teams have assembled and are working hard finding venues, gifts and scrumptious food to make an unforgettable Christmas Day experience that will help create great memories for the guests. Manchester, Islington, Hackney, Richmond, Stockport, Sheffield, Birmingham, Canterbury, Wirral, Liverpool, Leeds, and Hackney. We are lighting up the country like… a Christmas tree.”
And Louise Wallwein says: “Outbreaks of kindness and solidarity with care leavers at Xmas [are] breaking out all over the UK.”
So this year I will be joining the kindness crew, reclaiming Christmas, and helping to create a special time for young people who have left care. They will be showered with kindness and love, and treated with the utmost respect. You too can help by clicking on the links above or below and donate or volunteer.
Or you can reserve a place for a homeless person this Christmas with Crisis at Christmas and help provide companionship and support to tackle loneliness and isolation, and help people take their first steps out of homelessness. There are many ways to get involved this Christmas, you could help raise money for Shelter who estimate 120,000 children will be homeless this year