Children so love Christmas – but last year it was a tough time, particularly for children whose families were struggling financially or facing other challenges. Prison visits were also suspended, so our Family Services colleagues at the Sheppey Cluster of Prisons decided to use their time to bring a little festive cheer to children in the local community.
“We wanted to do something to bring back the sparkle of Christmas,” says Family Services Manager Lisa Langworthy, “so through the local press we invited people from the community to nominate children for a special Santa doorstep visit. The Spurgeons Family Services team would dress as Santa and his elves and give each child a gift, many of them donated by local businesses.
Local resident Mary nominated her ten-year-old grandson Alex. Lisa recalls, “Alex and his dad had moved in with his other grandmother, Granny Alice, because Alex’s dad had lost his job due to Covid. The family had had to explain to Alex that they couldn’t afford more than one Christmas present each and perhaps some nice food.
“Mary said that Alex had been really good about the situation, so she really wanted him to have a Santa visit to cheer him up and make his Christmas special. There was another reason, too; Alex didn’t know that Granny Alice was terminally ill, and it would be their last Christmas together…”
However, it turned out that Alex and his family lived in Nottingham, hundreds of miles from Kent, rather too far for a doorstep visit. Undaunted, Lisa and her colleagues arranged to do a ‘virtual’ Santa. They dressed up, put up a festive background and played Christmas music, and called Alex by video link. Lisa recalls, “He was so excited! In spite of everything, he told us how he was looking forward to Christmas with his family.
When we asked what gift he would like, he said he would have loved a remote-controlled car but didn’t know if that was possible, given his family’s situation. With the help of Spurgeons supporters, we were able to make it possible.”
So it was that, a few days later, a big box arrived at Alex’s house.
His family, who were in on the secret, filmed him as he opened it and later sent a copy of the video to Lisa and Mary. Lisa recalls, “In the box were lots of little gifts – and one bigger parcel. When Alex ripped the paper from it and saw the remote-controlled car, his face was a picture! Then there was a letter from Father Christmas (which we’d written with help from Mary and Granny Alice). It said how special Alex was to Granny Alice, how he made her lovely cups of tea, how she loved the cuddles he gave her and how much she was looking forward to having Christmas with him.
Alex turned to Granny Alice and just hugged her like he would never let go – both of them were crying happy tears.
A few months later, Lisa and her colleagues heard that Granny Alice had passed away. Lisa says, “We sent Alex another parcel, this time from the Easter Bunny. It included some activity packs along with some special books written to help children deal with grief. Alex’s family later said they really helped him to cope with his loss.”
About Spurgeons Prison-based Family Support Services:
Spurgeons delivers family support services in 12 prisons across England. These services provide family support services for prisoners and their families and friends who visit them, with a particular focus on children and strengthening family relationships. We appreciate how important prison visits are for everyone involved. Our aim is to make them less daunting so that the time spent together helps families to re-connect in a positive way. We are always here to offer practical and emotional support.
To learn more about our work in prisons, click here.