Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Christmas services at Crisis

May 18 2009
It‘s Christmas, and many readers are heading for Crisis‘s six centres More than 1,300 homeless and vulnerably-housed people are expected to flock to one of the six Crisis Open Christmas (COC) shelters between 23rd and 30th December. Some 800 people will descend upon the London Arena, Isle of Dogs, this year's chosen location for the largest of the six shelters. Typically, the main arena will be the epicentre of festivities, hosting a vast and varied array of services. The remaining Christmas clients will retreat to the more specialised satellite venues around the city. Minibus pick-ups are scheduled to be leaving Victoria, King's Cross, Temple and Spitalfields Market from the 23rd December. Hostels will be notified of exact details in the weeks leading up to the 23rd and flyers will be handed out throughout the capital. For those preferring to stay away from the hub of the London Arena, a referral service will be in place: the more vulnerable clients can request refuge at one of the two 'quiet shelters'. Women, too, will have the opportunity for referral to the female-only COC centre, and a 'wet' shelter will be available for up to 100 people - while alcohol will be permitted on the premises, it will not be served. In COC's 35-year history, the longest running service of this kind, the emphasis has moved towards re-integrating people back into the community through addressing individual needs, be that educational requirements or addiction problems. COC will be running workshops, taster courses and an advice service throughout the eight-day period. Mick Bateman, the event's chief coordinator, explained that, "having people for a concentrated period with such comprehensive services at our disposal enables us to negotiate a plan specific to the needs of that individual - giving them a good start to the New Year. We don't promise to solve anyone's problems in this short time, but we can provide services and facilities to get them on the right track." Each year boasts an ever-increasing list of facilities which seems to be paying dividends, Bateman said. "Off the back off last year's Open Christmas, 30 people went on to become members of Skylight Cafe [a centre with access to workshops and information] and at this instant, 10 per cent of those enrolled have graduated into permanent employment". However, in the past Crisis Open Christmas has faced criticism from London hostels as the temporary accommodation they offer is abandoned for the merriment at the venues. Although this is not something they actively encourage, Bateman agreed that this does happen, "this is one of our biggest issues. We appreciate that it can be particularly lonely for those without a home or family, and naturally people seek companionship - they want to be with their friends at this time of year". This is something he says that they have started to address. "We ask our visitors to notify their respective hostels if they plan to be away, not least to prevent them losing their beds." For those readers heading for the Isle of Dogs over the Christmas period, key events to enter into the remaining page of your 2005 diary include; Midnight Mass delivered by the Bishop of Southwark on Christmas Eve (all religious denominations welcome), Christmas dinner with all the trimmings on the 25th and a five-a-side football tournament on 27th. Live bands and DJs will be playing in the main hall over the Christmas week. A smaller hall will be dedicated to the more impromptu performances by the aspiring Sinatras and Madonnas amongst the audience. An operation on this scale would not be possible without the help of the 4,000 volunteers that will be involved in the set-up and execution of COC 2005. Typically, the number of volunteer's peak on Christmas Day. In the past, COC has managed to attract a surplus 500 happy helpers, and comments such as "that was the best Christmas I ever had" encapsulate the spirit at this Christmas camp and keep them coming back for more. Bateman told us, "it's one week of the year where residents feel truly settled. Together we manage to create a really integrated atmosphere - it's like one big happy family."