Meet the poet who holds Christmas dinner for 500 strangers

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Christmas is thought of by most as a time that should be spent with family; so for those who have grown up in care and don’t have any family, it might feel very lonely. Lemn Sissay, a poet from Greater Manchester, who is known for his outdoor works which cover walls and pavements across the city, has gone to great lengths to ensure that those in the system do not spend Christmas alone. His annual Christmas Dinner event helps to embody this family feeling, creating positive memories of the festive period for those in care, and having been in care himself as a baby and from the ages of 12 to 18, knows how important this is.

Lemn took inspiration from a Christmas Dinner event run by the Tope Project in London for those who had been in care, and wanting to create the same solidarity in his city of Manchester, began his own version by a single dinner in 2013. This year, the event will take place across the country in 12 destinations, feeding over 500 people who are either in care of who have been in care, without a family of their own to celebrate with. Each is organised by local volunteers who are given direct instructions from Sissay on how to plan the day.

He commented on what the event means to him and the people he helps; “Christmas Day can be a very difficult day for young care-leavers.

“It’s about giving them a smile and making them know that they matter on that day.

“It’s all about the detail – the cards written to that person, the presents chosen for that person so they have that joy and surprise and the thing they’d always wanted, like a pair of football boots,” he says.

This year, the Lemn Sissay Foundation has been set up as a registered charity, securing the future of the event.

Mike Morris was in care from the age of 13, and attended the Manchester Christmas Dinner last year for the first time. He said that before, not celebrating Christmas with a family made him feel depressed and alone, and although he was doubtful about the event, said it was very enjoyable.

He says that one of the best things about the event is that it doesn’t feel like a “charity case”.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re being given things, it feels like you belong there,” commented Morris.

The kindness exhibited by Sissay really does demonstrate the spirit of Christmas, and reminds us that the holiday is not as simple for us all and can be a lonely time. We should all strive to follow the example set by Lemn Sissay, in showing compassion to others during this special time of year.