Christmas can be a tough time for many, especially those without family around them at a time of year that is traditionally shared with love ones.
The festive period doesn’t always feel very festive for people who have been in care and now find themselves alone in the world – but that’s where we try to help, along with the local authority and one particular charity that does amazing work in this area.
Arsenal in the Community have been working with care leavers for more than ten years with Islington Council, and we facilitate weekly activities to provide education and employment support.
We also work with Go Forward Youth, a charity dedicated to supporting care leavers, to host events on Christmas Day and provide a safe place with a hot meal and fun activities.
Kadeema Woodbyne, founder and chief executive of Go Forward Youth, says, “I came up with the idea of a Christmas Day for Care Leavers to respond to the challenges and loneliness they can face at Christmas time. We’ve worked with Arsenal in the Community for the last five years to put on events at The Arsenal Hub. We normally welcome 40 to 50 young people who get to play games and have a football match before sitting down to a full Christmas meal.
“We’ve had guest appearances from Emile Smith Rowe and Leah Williamson, and even during the lockdown we were still able to run the events online. These events are a great way for young people to get together and enjoy each other’s company.
“Go Forward Youth also delivers events throughout the year to engage with care leavers and has also set up a project for young people to sell items through a business programme. Individuals who have taken part in Arsenal programmes have also been able to progress onto the programme.”
Arsenal in the Community’s Jack Ferguson says, “It’s great working with Kadeema, Go Forward Youth and the team at Islington Council to put on events that are so meaningful to young people. We have a close working relationship with Islington Council and set up a joint programme to support Care Experienced Young People around education and employment opportunities last year. We look forward to continuing this programme and supporting more young people.”
One person who felt the benefit of that support is Elizabeth, now aged 26, who was at The Hub for Christmas lunch in 2018.
“I had ambitions to get involved with a charity for care leavers because I’m a care leaver myself and I wanted to help,” she says. “I was with Islington Council’s care leavers’ team when I met Kadeema. She came to a session and happened to have tickets to an Arsenal match. She asked who wanted to go, I said yes, and when we were there we got talking. Not long after that I helped organise Go Forward Youth’s Halloween project. Kadeema then asked me to become a trustee.
“I’d heard about the Christmas lunch at the Arsenal Hub and thought it was such a good idea. I knew of only one other charity doing anything similar for care leavers, in honour of a friend who passed away.
“The day itself was amazing – I had such a good time. I saw a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in ages, and people I didn’t even know had been in care. I went to a lot of different schools in Islington so it was hard to stay in touch with everyone,” says Elizabeth.
“The best thing was the hamper I got. I love Christmas and I love giving, but I’ve never had a present like that before. It had food and drink from Waitrose, treats, even an Apple Watch, and there were lots of raffle prizes too. I’ll never need another make-up brush in my life!
“The food was amazing too. I had the works, including turkey, stuffing, pigs in blankets… plus curry and naan bread. There was even Prosecco for the over-18s. I can’t believe how Kadeema does such an amazing job every year.
“Go Forward Youth has been inspirational and I now have a much deeper understanding of what’s involved: the legal side, finances and safeguarding. People who leave care are so used to being told they won’t succeed – and I want to help change that.
“The more I learn about how many local charities receive support from Arsenal, the more I realise how important it is. It raises awareness, gives people an incentive to help others and I’ve met people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. It breaks down barriers to helping people.”
Elizabeth is right – but the final word should go to Kadeema.
“We want care experienced people to live in a world where they don’t feel isolated and in a society full of stigma,” she says. “With opportunity and support they can achieve their goals.”
For more info visit go-forwardyouth.org
Islington Fostering Support
Through our work supporting Care Experienced Young People, Arsenal in the Community have become aware of the need in Islington for foster carers to look after local children and young people. So if you have room in your heart and a room in your home, find out how rewarding fostering can be by calling for a chat on 020 7527 7933. You can also email email@example.com or visit islington.gov.uk/fostering
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