BY ILSE BRUIJN
For most of us, Christmas is a time we spend with family, food, drinks, presents and warmth. The cold outside makes it all the more comfortable inside and the company of others, even if it is that one uncle who always falls asleep during the Christmas dinner, makes it a jolly time indeed.
Sadly, this does not apply to everyone. In England alone, more than 113,000 households have applied for homelessness assistance to their local authority in the last year. This signifies an 11 per cent increase in the last two years, according to figures from Crisis.
And it is just the start. There are many more people out there who are dealing with homelessness issues and who might not have a place to be for Christmas and are instead wandering the streets outside.
Fortunately there are people in London who are willing to make Christmas a special time for them too. Enter the Brixton Soup Kitchen. They plan to throw their visitors an amazing Christmas party.
Solomon Smith, who set up the soup kitchen in January, said: “We want to have that Christmas feeling. We are going to put up Christmas decorations and we are planning to have a turkey. What we have in our vision is to have a long table, Christmas trees everywhere.
“I don’t really celebrate Christmas – I still eat rice and peas on Christmas day – but I will do my research when it comes to Christmas dinners.”
One of the volunteers, Mahamed Hashi, added to that: “I am a Muslim so I don’t celebrate Christmas but I understand the need for food and I understand that on Christmas day, everything will be closed so they cannot rely on any donations.”
“Most people are going to be nice and warm, with their families, enjoying themselves. We are trying to create that family feel for them. Hopefully that will encourage them to come back and that will give us the ability to help them to come out of the situation that they’re in.”
The soup kitchen aims to be a very inclusive charity and the same will go for the festive bash.
“We are not a religious charity,” says another volunteer, Micah Lammie. “We have people that come from all different walks of life and religious beliefs, so we accept people from any faith. They don’t have to pray before they get a meal, like at some other soup kitchens.”
The Brixton kitchen will rely on donations from local businesses to make the party happen. Nando’s has already committed to provide them with chicken and Refill and Satay Bar will donate food as well.
Clint Capell, 53, (pictured right) is one of the regular visitors of the soup kitchen. Like many of the guests, he does not have any family in London to be with for Christmas. When asked about his plans for the holiday period, he said: “I don’t really plan that far ahead. Christmas is just like any other day for me.”
Clint was made homeless last year and lived on the street for a while. He was then put in the system and ended up at a place called the Hub, in Islington, where he slept on the floor with many other people left without their own roof. Eventually he was sent to the Lambeth Assesment Centre in Vauxhall for six weeks, where he was put in touch with a charity called Look Ahead. They provided him housing in Brixton, where he is currently sharing a house with three others.
Things are looking up for Clint, but he is still struggling to provide for himself. He said: “I have been coming to the Brixton Soup Kitchen for about six weeks now. I have been on benefits for the last two years.
“I have a mother in Australia who is struggling at the moment so I am sending her half my benefits. I come on Tuesday to Thursday when they are open and on the Thursday I take a little bit extra to get me through the weekend.”
Clint is now doing a lot of volunteering within the homelessness sector and hopes to make his job out of it one day. He works in the kitchens of the Lambeth Assesment Centre, helps Streetrisk get people of the street during the weekend and is waiting for an apprenticeship at Thames Reach, where he will receive a year of training to work in the field. He is already volunteering with them to help people with drug and alcohol problems do their daily tasks, like shopping and paying for their light and water bills.
When told the soup kitchen was throwing a Christmas party he responded: “Really? Brilliant! Well, I will definitely be attending that.”
Readers can donate food, money and a helping hand by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.