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Are you going to a Christmas dinner this year? As part of the care experienced led projects series IMO spoke to Jerome from The Tope Project about combatting loneliness at Christmas for care leavers. 

What is The Tope Project?

The Tope Project is a volunteer run project which aims to help reduce the feelings of loneliness among young people who have been in care and are now care leavers. We are named in memory of a 23-year-old care leaver who took his own life. His death had such a profound impact on his friends that the group decided to use the energy of his life and be there for others so that no one feels alone in this way.

Our motto is “turning pain into positivity”. We create a safe, welcoming space and bring people together to simply have fun, eat good food, build meaningful authentic connections, and feel the love!

We created the UK’s first large scale Christmas Day event in 2012 for young care leavers and have been running a Christmas Day event every year since. We’ve also created a ‘how to guide’ to inspire people around the country and beyond to set up similar events.

What was the first Christmas dinner like?

It was one of the best Christmases ever, the first time I’ve ever properly cried from love. We had people from all walks of life – some with significant amounts of trauma – but in the space, it was all love. We had games, a movie corner, a quiet space, arts and crafts, dancing, food, board games, a kids’ area, and a photo area. This day was the epitome of Christmas; a deep connection, no agenda, sharing space, enjoyment, food, laughs, and memories made.

How has The Tope Project developed?

In Year 1 we had 75 young people, that doubled to 150 young people in Year 2. We then created our how-to guide to help others run their own programmes and Lemn Sissay set up his Christmas dinners and it has grown and grown, from city to city. Now we’re having conversations with other countries such as Kenya, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Moldova, Australia, New York, and a few others. We’re working together in the hope that eventually, kids, the elderly, the homeless, and all those who may be suffering, are thought of at Christmas.

What’s happening this year?

This year we are putting together 150 hampers for care leavers, and supporting a silent partner to get 60 hampers specifically for young girls affected by abuse.

You can find a list of other Christmas Dinners happening across the UK on Lemn Sissays’ Christmas dinners website.

What is your call to action?

Our call to action would be that, after nearly 10 years, it is on the government, and local authorities, as ‘corporate parents’, to provide these spaces in every local borough – so that no care leaver is alone at Christmas. If people want to set up their own project, we are more than happy to send over our how to guide, have a call, or come and meet with them.

What tips and advice can you offer young care experienced people over the Christmas period?

Try to be aware and respond to what you see. A minute, or moment, of kindness can create a ripple of joy. It’s important we show up, listen, and respond to those who need our time, space, and energy.

Get to know useful projects, phone lines, or resources. That way, if you, or someone you know, is in need, you’ll know where to go for support.

Finally, it’s important that you love and value yourself so you can be there for yourself and others when they need you.

We chatted to Jerome about The Tope Project and his personal journey healing the traumas he experienced in the care system on The IMO Podcast. You can also check out the other posts from our care experienced led projects series and if you’ve got a project you’d like to share, get in touch!

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