A voluntary group is driving a campaign to provide a Christmas to remember for care leavers hit by isolation during a year dominated by the impact of lockdown.
Organisations including businesses and charities are being urged to support Operation Santa’s Sleigh and some have already started. Volunteers from Hull City Council are on board in their roles as Room 42 champions for care leavers and backing has also come from a trade union.
The team behind With Care Hull launched their Christmas Appeal 2020 after Covid-19 forced the cancellation of plans to take part in The Christmas Dinners, a nationwide initiative founded by the poet Lemn Sissay MBE to bring festive cheer to care leavers.
In Hull, business support for the With Care steering group is being provided by companies including The Tree Fellas Hull, which was founded in 2019 by care leavers Sarah Fenwick and Gareth Pennington.
Sarah said: “When Gareth and I had left care and were living in a little flat Christmas was always a reminder that we didn’t have a family, and it was the most isolating time of the year.
“There are a lot of young care leavers living independently after coming out of children’s homes where they were financially stable and now have very little support. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for them – and especially for their mental health – with Christmas and lockdown. I want them to know that we are thinking about them and we want to provide a Christmas for them.”
Councillor Hester Bridges, Chair of the Hull Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “It’s really important that we support care leavers in the city because it is really difficult being in care. When you leave you need extra support, but many young people haven’t got family or a strong network of friends.
“Operation Santa’s Sleigh is an appeal from With Care Hull to provide a Christmas gift for young people who have left care and to put a smile on their faces. It’s really important to help people at a time of year when they are likely to have a real sense of isolation and a feeling that nobody is thinking about them.”
To ensure the gifts are useful and relevant, the campaign website at WithCareHull.org includes a link to a wish list of items. Among the organisations which have already supported the campaign are the Ashcourt Group, Morrisons, Unison, HSBC and the Nurture a Child charity.
In addition, Above the Fold Creative has designed a With Care logo featuring the care leaver diamond and the Hull three ships symbol.
Kurt Bousfield, owner and Managing Director of Ashcourt Group, said: “We recognise the unique challenges that care leavers face when trying to secure employment. We understand that they often just need the right opportunity to experience the world of work and a little understanding that their lives can sometimes become difficult as they try to manage independence. This is why we fully support Room 42 and the care leavers initiative and have offered a range of opportunities from work experience, to work trials and real employment.
“We are proud to support With Care Hull’s Christmas Appeal. We know that Christmas can be a difficult time especially for those who don’t have family to support them. We hope that our contribution helps make Christmas a happier time.”
Allison Audley and Matt Hemsworth, Morrisons’ Anlaby Community Champions, said: “We have a really good reputation for supporting people in the local community and we and our customers are very happy to help make Christmas a special time for Hulls care leavers. We would encourage anyone who feels they can contribute to get involved and help some inspiring young people at what can be a really difficult time of year.”
Adrien Kennett, Branch Secretary of Hull City UNISON, said: “Unison is proud to be able to help care leavers in the city with a donation We know how difficult it is for young people especially at Christmas so if we can help in some small way it’s our pleasure. I was a personal advisor for leaving care and I have so much respect for the work the team does to empower young people, as does everyone in the branch.”
Sarah added: “I remember one Christmas when it was very tight for money with a couple of things in the freezer and nothing in the fridge. A worker from one of my old children’s homes turned up and took me to get everything I would need right down to shopping for a Christmas dinner and some goodies. We were buzzing and later that night they came back with a big bag full of presents. We want everybody to have a present that they can open and get excited about.”
Gary Collinson, Chair of With Care Hull, said: “Time in care can have a lasting impact, and care leavers often lack the support that other young people would have at the start of their adult lives.
“Care leavers are supported by the local authority, but there is only so much the City Council can do. Sarah and Gareth have first-hand experience of the challenges which face care leavers and having built a successful business are also living proof of what can be achieved with the right support. With Care aims to fill the gap between what the council can provide and what these young people need.”
Phil Morris, who works for Hull City Council at Room 42 within the Guildhall, added: “We believe that young people can achieve great things with the right support and encouragement and we are working with others to start to provide some amazing opportunities for young people to develop and grow into successful adults.”
To find out more and to support Operation Santa’s Sleigh please visit www.WithCareHull.org
[Phil Ascough – Ascough Associates]