For those of us lucky enough to be with our friends and loved ones at Christmas, it’s easy to forget that there are some that are much less fortunate. There are many who will be spending Christmas alone and have nothing to share and no-one to share it with
Young care leavers are an example of this – the care system considers their role complete when youngsters are 16 and they are not eligible for council housing until they are 18. Falling between these ages many of these youngsters who have already suffered in younger years through no fault of their own are nevertheless deemed by the state to be able to care for themselves. Very often taken into care in the first place because of abuse, violence or abandonment they are now sent into the world ill-equipped to deal with their circumstances and with virtually nothing available to them by way of support - and all this through no fault of their own!
Malcolm Prentice (Derbyshire Province's Heritage Officer) having recognised the plight of these youngsters has for the past few years been instrumental in organising a Christmas Lunch for them at Freemasons’ Hall, Burton on Trent. Working with local care teams and willing volunteers from Derbyshire and Staffordshire Freemasons, he has been able to provide a safe and enjoyable event where the youngsters can enjoy the day – where they are the centre of attention, can enjoy a proper Christmas lunch, where they can talk to their peers, share stories and support each other and where they can feel valued. They also leave with a gift bag and a Christmas card with a gift voucher inside.
This year has of course presented further problems and there can be no Christmas party so Malcolm along with his band of willing helpers have started a fund-raising initiative to raise enough money to provide a Christmas hamper to each and every youngster. The initial target of £1800 was reached quickly and has now been increased to in excess of £9000. Derbyshire and Staffordshire Freemasons along with members of the community from far and wide have been quick to respond to this very worthy cause; the target has been exceeded and the fund continues to grow – a fantastic effort by all concerned.
Malcolm said: 'We can’t thank the Freemasons of Derbyshire and surrounding provinces enough for their generosity and their care for those less fortunate. This has been a real community effort working with local Freemasons. Some of these youngsters have been through such terrible things in their life and its fantastic that we can show that there are people in the world that care, that don’t judge and that are capable of kindness. On their behalf I cannot express how much your generosity means – you have just made their Christmas a special one.'
The stories from these young people are often harrowing. Trandeep Sethi of Lodge of Repose in Derbyshire, a Business Manager working in Safeguarding for a local council, was able to share some of the thoughts of the youngsters and carers following last year’s Christmas party (names have been changed for anonymity):
- Kieran had to be encouraged to come to the first Christmas Party arranged by Malcolm and his team of helpers, some Freemasons but others just people wanting to help, he was afraid of what to expect, afraid of what he may feel when he sees people, he was worried that he may act in a way that would not be great. His worker said that he would go with him and sit with him throughout, but didn’t really understand why Kieran was so apprehensive. Walking through the door of Ashby House, Kieran said that he saw lots of people smiling at him, lots of people that looked happy to see him and ‘made a fuss of me’. He said ‘I didn’t know what to do’. He sat in the dining hall with his worker by his side. When the food was served he ate it literally as it was put on his plate. His worker turned to him and said “hungry Kieran?”, he replied, “I ate yesterday….”
Kieran was given a Christmas Card by the Derbyshire Freemasons, he picked the card up, carefully took it out of the envelope making sure that it did not tear. Slowly he read the greeting on the front and inside, delicately placing it back in the envelope and into his inside coat pocket. He sat in silence for a short while. His worker asked: “are you ok Kieran?” “This is the first Christmas Card I have ever had” was his reply.
- Becky had just turned 18, was pregnant and has a beautiful baby girl under 2. She tries really hard to ensure that her daughter has all that she can but does not have much to give except her love. When her worker asked if she wanted to go to the Christmas Party, the first thing she asked was if her daughter could come. Of course both attended. Her daughter ran around, played with the balloons and sang. Becky used her gifts to support her daughter on Christmas Day. Both her and her daughter had a fantastic time and enjoyed the Christmas festivities.
- Laura has spent the last 2 years in a Mental Health hospital due to extreme self-harming. She started to venture out with support staff and had been told about the Christmas party by her brothers. They had told her how much they enjoyed themselves, sang carols and had a “swag bag” full of gifts. She set herself a goal and worked with her staff for a year to get to a point where she felt safe enough to come to the party and she did! Initially sitting with her two support staff, she started to open up and talk, laugh and eventually sing. This was the first public event that she has attended in 2 years, it led to her being more and more confident in herself spending more time outside of hospital.
- Hannah has learning needs and at 18 needs a lot of support, she has no family. Her worker had heard about the Christmas party and asked if she wanted to go. She did! There she saw a magic show, the magician asked for volunteers. Hannah was picked, she was so excited and happy, tears were streaming down her face. She said: 'this is the best day of my life.'
Trandeep Sethi said; 'Malcolm, I cannot express to you the difference you continue to make in the lives of these children. You have made them smile when they have said they have nothing to smile about, you have made then cry with happiness. The hampers will remind them that people care, they have people that they can turn to and not to give up. I would go as far as saying that some are only here because of you!'