Updated: Monday, 20th November 2017 @ 5:34pm

Death of care leaver inspires poet Lemn Sissay to launch The Christmas Dinner... and he needs YOUR help

Death of care leaver inspires poet Lemn Sissay to launch The Christmas Dinner... and he needs YOUR help

Exclusive by Ruth Dacey

Award-winning Manchester author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay is urging generous volunteers to help for The Christmas Dinner which will provide a festive extravaganza.

The organisation aims to bring a delicious Christmas Dinner in Manchester for approximately 40 care leavers between the ages of 18 and 25-years-old.

The pop-up organisation of 12 professionals in the North West of England, including Sissay, have come together with more than one hundred years’ experience of working with young people.

The official poet of the 2012 London Olympics was inspired to organise the festive event after discovering The Topѐ Project in London which was named in memory of Topѐ a 23-year-old care leaver who took his own life in 2010.

“His death was a terrible tragedy and many care leavers dread Christmas and find it an isolating time,” Sissay told MM.

"A lot are not in touch with their previous foster family and spend the day alone in independent accommodation.

“What the Topѐ Project did was reach out to young people who have been through the care system at Christmas and I just knew this was something that urgently needed to happen in my home of the North West.”

It is a project close to Sissay’s heart as he is a care leaver himself and can relate directly to those who find the festive season the most challenging time of year as it acts as a reminder of everything they never had.

“It is a time for many that they want to forget as it can be very lonely and I know just how hard it can be.  There have been times where I have just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry,” the award-winning poet said.

“You have to remember all we really are as humans is a collection of memories that build our story, and so for many care leavers these memories aren’t positive ones.

“The main thing we want to come out of this is to provide a positive memory that these young people will want to recall in the future.”

The Christmas Dinner has already gained noticeable support from Dave Haslam of The Hacienda and Mary Anne Hobbs from BBC Radio 6 who will both be DJing on the day.

Help has also flooded in from across the North West including donations from Baileys Turkeys based in Cheshire, Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton and a tree from Levenshulme’s Buds Gardening Centre.

And yesterday afternoon promoters Ground Control and the Warehouse Project have donated VIPs tickets which are now being given away as 'rewards' for those who pledge money to The Christmas Dinner.

Tickets for Festival No6, Parklife and Kendal Calling - along with a full season pass to The Warehouse Project - are up for grabs for donations from £200 and upwards.

Sissay, whose poems can be found decorating the streets and buildings of Manchester, has been delighted with the response so far but stressed they always want more help, and desperately need a chef on the day.

“It’s very moving for me to see how much support we have had already but Manchester I need your help still,” he exclaimed.

"We really need a chef, this is called The Christmas Dinner. It means the food is central to that.

“We have a brilliant catering team of people who can work the kitchen but we need a chef that can cook for 60 people and they will probably only need to be there for one or two hours on the day.”

The festive project is specifically aimed at young adults, and for Sissay this is crucial as he believes the most difficult time is when you leave the care system.

"There is all that support when you are a child but what about when you’re an adult? Your experiences in childhood is the factor that most impacts on your adult life." he explained.

“It is like shock, the devastation happens after the catastrophic event. My childhood becomes more apparent to me as I grow older.”

Sissay will be volunteering on the day and hopes that it will be an unforgettable experience for care leavers and volunteers alike.

“It is top secret but we do have some amazing presents already, I’m so excited because it will be like one big family celebrating together,” he said elatedly.

“The day is going back to the real heart and importance of Christmas, reminding ourselves to care for one another.

“It is not just about giving, because even though yes we do need your help you will also gain so much out of it.”

This year will be the pilot scheme for the project and currently they can only have up to 45 people for the meal but this is something that Sissay wants to expand in the future.

“If I had it my way we would cater for more people but for that to happen we need to make sure this year is a success and gain support in the future,” he explained.

“I don’t just want this to be a one off event, I hope it can continue to get bigger and better year on year but we can only do that with the support from the community.”

For all enquiries contact: thechristmasdinner2013 ( at ) gmail ( dot ) com and to donate visit http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-christmas-dinner/

To view Lemn's appeal, click here.

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