Bringing Christmas to a Salvation Army Lifehouse
published on 17 Dec 2021
For residents at Salvation Army Lifehouses (supported accommodation for people who are homeless) in Sheffield, Christmas kicks off at the beginning of December, with decorations going up and a month full of festive events.
There are craft sessions, like card-making, Great British Bake Off style baking or cake-decorating competitions, and festive walks in the nearby Peak District.
Creating a special atmosphere at a time that for people who have lost their homes can feel very lonely, is vital for Service Manager Andy Parkinson and his dedicated team, who run Lincoln Court, which houses 11 women, and Charter Row, which provides supported accommodation for up to 57 males.
Andy said: “Christmas is a special time for everyone, but for our residents it can be lonely, so we try and make it special. We want people to come together in some way and feel they are part of a family. It can be a massive trigger for people’s mental health if they are on their own or think nobody cares about them. We want to show them we do care.”
Residents will be given decorations and Christmas trees if they want to decorate their own rooms or flat and invited to join days out, including to Castleton Christmas Market.
There are also plenty of Chaplaincy-based activities in the lead up to 25 December, exploring the meaning of Christmas through carols and prayers.
Andy continued: “Last year we filmed a Yorkshire take on the nativity, which we screened at a pantomime hosted for the residents. We talked about the meaning of Christmas and what it would be like if Jesus had been born in urban Sheffield. We run the fun stuff alongside more serious stuff.
“In partnership with local churches, we always organise something for them to attend. Last year we went to the Sheffield Citadel Corps (church) and the band played carols while residents enjoyed coffee and cake bought by church members. This was followed by a stand-up comedian and guest speaker. This year we have a similar event planned with Grace Church, Sheffield, taking residents to a panto and choir.”
When it comes to gifts, the Lifehouse makes sure residents are well provided for. At Lincoln Court, they can request a gift within a £20 budget, such as a dressing gown or pyjamas or a hairdryer. In Charter Row, with more people to provide for, staff offer vouchers.
Andy said: “We are also involved with the Sheffield Shoebox Appeal, where members of the public donate gifts like toiletries, chocolates or sweets for vulnerable adults which we give out with their vouchers.”
On Christmas Day at Lincoln Court, staff, who are hygiene-checked, help residents prepare lunch before eating together in the lounge. At Charter Row, caterers prepare a Christmas dinner with hats, crackers, sweets and chocolates.
Andy added: “On the day itself, some people don’t want to come out of their rooms and are more reflective, while others join in activities. We go to residents’ rooms to do a present drop and say ‘Happy Christmas’ and then put on movies or a quiz.
“Between Christmas and New Year, we put sandwiches, crisps and sweet things out every day so people can help themselves.”
As well as the festivities, Christmas also has its serious side at a Lifehouse.
“For us it is also about harm reduction and how people are doing with their mental health. Are people over indulging in alcohol and drugs and more likely to overdose? While Christmas is more relaxed in one sense, we are more aware of how people are coping and are asking ourselves if we are likely to have more incidents,” Andy said.
“We’re always aware that the risk escalates at this time of year. While we’ve never had someone overdose here at Christmas, it is always on our minds. It is both a stressful and rewarding period.”
Residents tell Andy they enjoy the organised events and getting out and about.
One resident, Conrad, said: “Christmas should be a happy time. You should have toys, laughter, fun and definitely Santa and family, but in fact Christmas is hard because I am on my own and that hurts. You miss the Christmases of the past.
“I’m glad that I am indoors for Christmas and safe, and it’s good to be around people who care for me. In a way the Sally Army is like a family. My hope is that I find happiness and laughter.”