Christmas is drawing near. I have steamed my pudding, made my mincemeat and ordered the turkey. My boxes of Christmas cards look accusingly from the kitchen table; they know that I am running out of time to make the last posting date. Shopping online for all my gifts rather than braving the shops is the norm and my diary for the weeks before Christmas is fuller than ever.
Christmas is a time of year when each of us in our own way tries to do something for someone else, whether buying a present, the invite to Christmas dinner, the writing of a Christmas card, making the Christmas sweets or even the fulfillment of a promise to finally visit someone’s home just for a cup of tea.
Christmas remains a time, not only for children to enjoy themselves, but also for the mums, dads, granny’s, granddads, aunts and uncles to have a good time in each others company and it has been a whole lot more exciting since I have been able to share it with my nieces.
When Parliament rises for its Christmas break I will visit community groups, old people’s homes, school nativity plays and carol concerts. These are the festive and fun parts of my diary. But there is another side to Christmas.
This year the homeless shelter is based at Newham College and will offer advice, healthcare, skills and education as well as food and shelter. Transport will be provided for those who are street homeless who need somewhere to sleep. But the shelter does not just cater for the street homeless but also offers services and a helping hand to other vulnerable or lonely people. Having volunteered in homeless shelters for a number of years, I know from experience that the shelter is a sad but also uplifting place, a place where people, can and do, change lives.
The charity “Crisis” tell me that they are always keen to recruit volunteers and receive donations but would also welcome volunteers with particular skills to offer services free of charge to those in need; medical professionals, advice practitioners, hairdressers, massage therapists, cooks, podiatrists to name a few.
I do understand that Christmas is not always the stress free and happy time for all in our community, it can be a time when people assess their happiness and find it wanting. This Christmas I will be especially thinking of those who are unemployed, fearful for their jobs or struggling to make ends meet because of the recession. For some of our families it is the time that tensions bottled up over a year simply explode, or a time when the bereaved are overwhelmed by loneliness. There are a number of services operating over the Christmas period, staffed by people who are there to help and keep us safe.
So I would like to end this year by taking this opportunity to thank our local heroes for their unsung efforts. Our Community Volunteers, Home Helps, Carers and Social and Health Service workers and all our Emergency Services, - all of whom collectively make life so much easier and safer for so many people in West Ham and Newham.
My very best wishes to you and yours. I hope you have a Happy and Peaceful Christmas.