Canterbury’s Christmas Dinner | Areas of responsibility

Notes from Lemn Sissay:



Don’t think finance is the be all and end all. You need very little actual finance compared with the total cost.   The Crowdfunder site that you will create serves two excellent and crucial purposes. It serves as a place for everyone to see The Christmas Dinner Project in its entirety. Secondly it raises donations for The Christmas Dinner. We have done it three times on five thousand pounds.

The Crowdfunder site is split into these sections:

1. A short two minute scripted video

2. Information about the project

3. The names and job titles of every individual of the team

4. The Pledges which are donated to sell on the crowdfunder site

5. The Charity who will accept the money on your behalf.

One person should liaise with The Crowdfunder team. Crowdfunder is a company who really love the Christmas Dinner as an idea.


Find a chef and maitre’d. You know the number who will be attending. We are working with between 50-70 (TBC asap) including volunteers. A Christmas Dinner for this many people is what you are asking of the chef.  We want to achieve everything for free but we have found sometimes you may have to pay the professional chef/cook. He or she will tell you what the kitchen needs are. You’ll need to get the food order from the chef. However as a guide:

Kitchen and Food Examples:   lists taken from previous years

1) Hire equipment list

2) Vegetable shopping list

3) Chef/Cooks list

4) Christmas Dinner list

Volunteer teams

The kitchen volunteer teams will have various roles that need to be split into one document with times and roles.

How to get the food

Even before you have the food order or chef the food team can crack on with finding donations of food. Know anyone who works at the local supermarket, farmers market or local grocer?   Any turkey farms in your area any cake shops?  Pool ideas in the first two meetings. Food businesses have approved kitchens. The aim of donating is that the community takes care of the care leavers at this time.   Like any good Christmas Dinner there should be food left over. Get 200 plastic takeaway trays for the distribution afterwards. This will be very important. Also please do not waste anything. There are food banks that would love the surplus.

Notes: The food needs to be halal or a mixture of halal. Ask everyone if they are halal eaters on the referral and volunteer forms as well as vegans or vegetarians.


Service and seating is paramount to the smooth running of The Christmas Dinner. The maitre’d runs this. It must feel like a happy Christmas dinner not an institutionalized affair. The Maitre’d can be brought on once you have the venue (or earlier) and then much later. – unless she/he wants to contribute further.


The venue team must be creative about finding an adequate space cause no venue is perfect.   Think of normal Christmas dinners – what space is PERFECT? Exactly? None. Maybe you’ll only have three or four rooms. How will you work them so they can comfortably accommodate

  1. Games space – giant jenga, pool etc.
  2. Film space   – large space for films throughout the day.
  3. Computer Game Space – computer on wall with Xbox games
  4. Crèche area – for young care leavers who have children.
  5. Presents room – for the storage of presents on the day
  6. Secure coats and bags room
  7. Dinner space – the main room for the dinner.
  8. Production office – where the producer for the day keeps all documents
  9. An outside area for smoking


Design needs

The primary purpose of the design is that the space is made Christmassy. You need to find somebody who will be able to take charge in transforming the room. You’ll need a Christmas Tree but maybe the venue has one already. Maybe they have Christmas decorations already.   The main aim is to make it feel Christmassy – as a gift in itself.    The designer will have all kinds of needs once they see the venue. It is your job to find and source what is needed for and with the design team. One element which seems always to get ignored is lighting. Remember we are looking to get their decorations etc, for free.

Important: The venue is a secret. Only the team and the attendants should know where it is.



Assurances and Insurances

Personal/public liability insurance is not difficult and possibly one of the group will allow you to attach it via his or her company/charity. You will need to do Risk assessment on the building which will be a document for the day. The venue will need insurance. Maybe you could insure through their insurance.

Risk Assessment Example



Presents must have the WOW factor we felt once on Christmas Day. These young people deserve that. Plus stocking fillers. Encourage companies to donate presents. Who are the companies in the local shopping center? Approach them?

Remember you need fifty of each. Know the local roundtable organization?    Anyone you know got an office who will donate secret Santa’s? Will the local cinema give free tickets? Will a hairdresser offer a few free haircuts? It’s a fun thing to ask people. Get someone or a company to donate a £20 note for a card, be creative about who you’ll approach. Write to national companies – write to Apple. Personal contacts are always better. And remember that each person who attends will have a Christmas card written to them from us in their name. Try the local media centre: BBC? Galaxy?

An additional present of a goody bag of food staples to take home is a good idea. Don’t forget the mince pies! The Goody bag should be given as they leave for taxi – not as a xmas present. Both the smaller bag for the food and the larger bags for the presents can be found in Poundland – bright colours. Ideally you want one company to provide the food goody bag. A supermarket may do that.

Present Packing

Present packing is done on Christmas Eve. It can take three to four hours. You can split it into two shifts with different people. Normally it’s a fun Christmassy affair. Don’t worry about that yet.   You will need a) Christmas bags b) Christmas Tags c) sellotape d) wrapping paper. Get them from Poundland. Every bag must be tagged and specific to the name of the person it’s for. Think about presents for a raffle too.

If they are presents that need information like shoes or clothes you will need to ask on the referral forms to include requests for shoe sizes etc. Make sure to write down all the people/companies who gave presents in one document with contact details.

Present storage

Ideally one of the groups has a space that can hold the presents until Christmas Eve. It needs to be secure. If all else fails put it in storage. This will cost money. Keep your receipts and it will be paid at the end.


You are not an official charity

Some companies will only donate if you are a charity. You will need a charity to deal with the finance. Is one of the people on the Christmas dinner team on a charity or do they know a charity that will support the Christmas dinner for these purposes? We have found one and got them involved at each Christmas dinner. It’s a great opportunity for a charity to support a team of professionals determined to do the right thing.   This will be very useful for both the team and the charity.



A referral is a young care leaver who  is coming to the Christmas dinner. For every care leaver you need a fully filled in Referral form. The referral form tells you everything you need to know about the needs of the young people. We accept self-referrals too.

Look at the referral form in detail. It includes the times of the dinner and is extremely informative. You can start to make inroads to the various organisations in your area – Barnados social services, hostels. If you know any area managers this is a crucial point. But what you say to them about The Christmas Dinner must be the same. This information will be in your Crowdfunder Campaign. Use that paragraph. Don’t set up a website it’s a waste of time.

Do not under estimate this job. Use the crowdfunder site when people want to know information on what you do and who you are. Transparency is crucial.

People will ask about the project so remember everything has checks and balances. The kitchen is accredited, the venue is checked for health and safety, all the volunteers will be DBS checked or vouched for and the Christmas dinner team will have over one hundred years’ experience working with young people. All this information will be on the crowdfunder site too.

Getting referrals will test your patience. There will be a last minute stampede for places by people who showed little interest when you first approached them. People only start thinking of Christmas in December but you can seed the idea early. You motivate the workers/referrers that this is a REALLY GOOD idea for the young care leavers. That it is voluntary.

Though we have never done this I am informed that a £25 fee per person could be charged. This is a symbolic charge made to the agency that sends their young people to us. This is not charged to any individual child or self-referral.

Whomever runs referrals must work professionally with young people in care.

Here is the referral Form

Important: All contact details must be private to the referral organisers who must work in this field..




You’ll be surprised how many people will volunteer for Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. Once again this is about asking people and showing them the crowdfunder site. Show them what you are doing and see if they may commit. I’m hoping that the noise will spread through your social networks wherever they are and whatever they may be. I have noticed you will get an abundance of volunteers if you put the word out – often too many. Choosing your volunteers is really important. The person who runs this needs to be care experienced and mindful not to let people in who want to ogle the pitiful. Volunteers want to facilitate the greatness of young people. You will use your professional and personal instincts for this. The volunteers do not need to be nor should they be all social workers. This is about the community taking responsibility of their Care Leavers. No volunteer can bring their children. I’ll leave it for you to discuss why that is the case.

Things for Volunteers to do

On Christmas Eve they’ll need to deliver the presents from wherever they’re stored and wrap the presents. They’ll need to prepare the rooms. Some of the Kitchen team will need to chop veg and prepare the kitchen.

On Christmas Day they’ll need to be available ideally from 10am to 8.30pm but they can easily split this into half days. There’ll be a kitchen team, washing up team, serving team, waiter team, allocated roles throughout the day, greeters. There are probably more jobs than this. You’ll what the needs are as they organizing takes up. But remember the volunteers are for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

You must remember the cleanup. I personally think it is better to employ someone professionally to do the clean up on Boxing Day or in the evening. Even so the place should be left as clear and as possible.

Volunteer application form

Volunteer list

Volunteer info sheet

Volunteer reference request

Volunteer Dinner spreadsheet

Volunteer letter and timings




From the referral forms you have the telephone numbers and addresses of all the young people: You need to find a taxi firm that will pick them up and drop them off. There’s a reason why we don’t have a bus to pick them up. Again it’s about The Christmas Dinner not feeling institutionalized. Although some taxis can double up. You can ask them on the referral form if they don’t mind sharing a taxi.    The taxi firm is a logistical job that needs to be taken care of in two parts. The first part is:

  1. Work out on a map where everyone lives.
  2. You’ll know who wants a cab via their referral forms
  3. Find a cab firm and give them the details. See if you can get a deal.
  4. Use the form to write down reference numbers of the cabs and all the details including pick up and drop off times.
  5. You’ll know the time you arrive

Here is the taxi booking form as an excel file but you want to make it a GOOGLE SHEET WHICH IS basically a spreadsheet online.

Any production coordinator of a TV company can do this with their eyes closed. They would be the ideal person to do this job in particular.

The reason we use a taxi firm is because of insurance. They are insured to pick up and drop off.

Remember this also means telephoning each young person to check they are okay with the pick-up times.   It needs to be a reputable taxi firm, you need to negotiate the costs prior to the event and need group texts to each young person for confirmation

Taxi Travel Schedule document




All expenses (from organisers) are kept on an Expenses Sheet in Google Sheets online. Any person who has expenses needs first to ask the finance person, then to collect their receipts. Take pictures of them and send them to the finance person and then to input into the expenses sheet.

The pledges are gifts to sell via crowdfunder – that’s how you raise funds. They need to be things people would really want to have. Do you know a portrait painter or cartoonist who can draw a person from a photograph? Could that be a pledge? Local football team may give tickets to the Boxing Day match. You can see on Crowdfunder that the pledges range from £10 to £1,000. The finance team must to raise pledges from people. The more desirable the better. They’ll have to approach all kinds of companies to get them to donate: restaurants, music festivals, Glastonbury, use all the contacts you know.


The Crowdfunder video and Crowdfunder Christmas dinner biography

The example I’ve given via crowdfunder is tried and tested. Keep your word count to a similar amount. get a professional community organization to make the video. Do any of you know one famous person who could make the video? Remember to script it and work out the different shots before you do the shoot. Use my example of different shots for your video. Go For it!! Make sure the famous person has a personal connection to the idea. Make sure they do.



I was inspired to do this by The Tope Christmas Dinner of 2012:  I contributed to it in a small way but I was determined to make it happen in Manchester the following year. And since then I’ve helped organise three Christmas Dinners – 2013 Manchester and 2014 in Manchester and hackney . They have all used this model.

It is not an organization. It’s more organized than that. Each area organizes locally. But there needs to be one person that people turn to for a final decision if all else fails. Beth Cuenco will be leading on this here in Canterbury.  She will see the process through to the end with my support.  They are the driving force, the symbol of what this is all about. This inspiration. His or her role is to do nothing other than push the process along. Minutes are not important but task lists are important. Each person should have a notepad or paper or somewhere to write their tasks. One person should make note of every allocated task. Everyone is there in a personal capacity to make it happen. That must be the sole aim for being there. I have heard some beautiful reasons. It is an inspiring project to be a part of. Each individual in the team needs to take on and own your own roles. If any individual thinks it’s not possible then they shouldn’t be in the team.

We are one group of people who have come together from our community with one aim in mind – to care for the care leaver on Christmas Day. The day should feel like a shared Christmas day with supportive adults and young people feeling relaxed . We will not stop until that aim is achieved. Each one of us will take total responsibility for making it happen. We will consult each other with the mindset of one who will make this happen We will use all our skills and resources to get what we want. We will not let the young people down. We will not let ourselves down. Live up to the commitment you make and only commit to what you can do. The payback and satisfaction from this project is more than any money could buy.

Thank you for making something so beautiful happen here in Canterbury.

Lemn Sissay