If you saw my office at the moment you’d think it was Santa’s grotto: full of presents from our individual and corporate donors to the people who come to the Centre for help. And this week even more presents and food are coming. What’s not to like about that in the midst of a very troubled world?
There are three stories in particular which have brought home the meaning of Christmas to me this year. The Centre is able to refer clients to an employment academy programme run by Land Securities and its contractor companies. Tariq fled from conflict in Sudan and came over the Mediterranean and through Calais into the UK where he has been granted the right to remain. The academy accepted Tariq onto their training course and he came through with flying colours. He now has a permanent job, and a month ago he was awarded runner up Employee of the Year. However, until this week he was homeless and has been sleeping on people’s sofas or floors, but still turning up on time for work every morning. Thankfully, on Tuesday our housing advice team were able to give him the great news that they had found accommodation and he could move in straight away. He is now determined to save enough money to try and get his wife out of Sudan to share his new home.
Just yesterday Sarah broke down in tears when the employment team gave her presents for her two young children and food for the family Christmas. Sarah is desperate for work but has only been offered zero hours contracts which she cannot accept as she can’t arrange childcare at short notice. The team will work with her in 2016 to ensure she gets into the kind of employment which allows her to ensure her children are safe and looked after. Meanwhile, her family can take some time out from the constant struggle to make ends meet and enjoy their time together at Christmas.
And then there is ‘Snow’, the kitten who was a present for Cara from her father when he knew he was dying. When he died she lost the right to the tenancy of his flat which she had shared with him. We managed to get her an offer of temporary accommodation which Cara would not accept as she could not have pets. She said she would prefer to be homeless. We finally persuaded her to take the offer, promising to find a foster home for Snow. She was heartbroken, but also very grateful. Last week, our housing advice team managed to get Cara a one bedroom flat. Snow has now been reunited with her owner in time for their first Christmas together.
And if you could see the joy in the faces of the people, young and old, when they open their presents you would see the real magic of Christmas – it makes the daily challenges all worthwhile.
Cathy Corcoran OBE
CEO – Cardinal Hume Centre