Christmas Day 2016: Feeding the Vulnerable People Creativity and Service. Short Term: 25/12/16

The Co-op started a campaign this year about giving back to the community this Christmas, and this involved fire stations in London hosting Christmas dinner for those in the community that are socially isolated, elderly, or alone at Christmas. The general idea was that the Co-op would provide the food for each fire station, whilst the fire fighters on duty cooked for the guests from sheltered accommodation, or other isolated areas. My dad is the Borough Commander for Barking and Dagenham, and so was in charge of running the dinner at Dagenham fire station, and so myself, my brother, my mum and my Nan joined him to help run the dinner and entertain the guests.

Aims of the project:

To increase my awareness of my own strengths when it comes to talking and singing to new people. To engage with people that are the victim of global issues such as social isolation and vulnerability. Develop new skills in communicating with new people, who may struggle to communicate sometimes due to social anxiety. To plan and prepare a short musical set list in order to entertain the guests.

 

George and I planned to play some of our music to entertain the guests, we planned a duet (‘chasing cars’ by Snow Patrol) and I also planned some more classic, Christmas songs, rather than my usual Pop songs. This is because I knew that we would be playing to older people, and they would appreciate songs that they knew much more than originals, or Pop songs. I decided to play ‘O Holy Night’, ‘Halleluja’ and ‘Santa Baby’. 

When we first arrived to the fire station, we had to set the table for the guests and the firemen.

The first guest to arrive was a man called Robert*. He has learning difficulties and lives on his own in a flat on the outskirts of London. He usually goes to the church at Christmas, but otherwise spends it alone. He had so much to say, and took a special liking to my little brother George, and they talked for ages about the shows that had been on TV the night before (Michael McIntyre etc.). It was amazing to see someone’s face light up like Robert’s did especially when speaking to younger people, which they don’t have any contact with in their daily life. 

At first when the guests arrived we introduced ourselves, took their coats and offered them a drink. It was important that we made them feel at ease, and this was the biggest challenge that I faced. Personally I am quite shy when it comes to new people so trying to start conversations with people that felt the same way as me was really difficult. There was one lady, Ellen*, who was particularly shy, and sat away from the rest of the group, as they were talking and getting to know each other. I took it upon myself to make a special effort to talk to her. I asked her about Christmas Television, and her favourite part of a Christmas dinner, and once I got her talking, I managed to convince her to sit with the others. It was amazing to see them all come out of their shells and talk to each other.

We made dinner for all of the guests in the fire station kitchen and served it to all of them. I was a massive job as we had to feed the guests and the firemen!

The music went down really well, especially ‘Halleluja’, and I was really happy to see people singing along with me. It was really a conversation starter to speak to people about my music.

The music went down really well, especially ‘Halleluja’, and I was really happy to see people singing along with me. It was really a conversation starter to speak to people about my music.

The most memorable part of the day for me however was when my brother and I were leaving, and we were saying goodbye to everyone. A man called Simon* held my hand for a while, and thanked me for making his Christmas so special. He was one of the quieter guests, and had trouble speaking, (he had cognitive difficulties) and so hearing these words meant so much to me, and have really inspired me to do something similar in the future. 

Another lady that I met is 100 years old on 7th January. She was completely deaf, but her skills in communicating by lip reading was inspirational. She was a sweet lady, and kept herself to herself mostly but when I did manage to talk to her, the stories she told were like none I had heard before. Because of her age, she has had experiences that we ourselves could never dream of. For example, she was 23 when World War 2 broke out, and she told me stories of how she was in the Female Air Force, but also a more personal view on how society was brought together by the war. These stories are so personal that you are unlikely to hear such stories in textbooks, and it was a great honour to talk to her.

I was unaware of the effect doing something like this on Christmas day would have on me. At first I had thought that it was just inconvenient for me, as I usually spend Christmas in my own home, so I wasn’t really too keen to have to spend it elsewhere. However, on reflection this activity made me feel so good about myself, I never realised how much of a difference I could make just by spending a few hours with people who had little contact with others on Christmas day. This has taught me that it pays to give up a small amount of time for other people. It barely interrupted my day at all, but to people like Simon and Robert, this Christmas will be something they remember, and can share with others. 

In the future I will think twice about whether or not to give up my time for something like this, because the happiness I can bring to someone is far greater than I had ever expected. 

Here are some reviews we got from the day:

Did I achieve my aims for the project?

I surprised myself in my own ability to start conversations with new people. It was difficult at first, but once we started talking about music, or what we liked to watch on television, it was alright. I also began to understand the effect that social isolation can have one people, and how much of an issue it is, especially in London. I saw this first hand when speaking to the guest that came to eat with us. Many of them had so much to say, but just no one to say it to, and this really hit me hard.

Daisy. Yr.12

*names changed to protect the identity of individuals.