Towards the end of 2023, staff at MacIntyre's learning centre in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, started thinking about ways we could give back to the local community.
Ampthill is generally quite an affluent area, but that doesn’t mean that people who live locally aren’t struggling, financially and otherwise.
We decided on a Christmas event that we hoped would bring the community together. It succeeded beyond our wildest dreams!
Setting the stage
We wanted to make it easy for struggling families to get some help around Christmas, whether that was practical support, financial help, or simply a free fun day out.
Santa’s starring role
We knew Santa would play an important part in the festivities. We had the idea of holding free Story Time with Santa sessions to engage children and help parents.
Two MacIntyre staff happily committed to the roles of Santa and Mrs Claus. Then Ben, who is supported by MacIntyre, offered to be another Santa, giving out teas and coffees.
Local volunteers kindly repainted a section of the building to make it into a very convincing Santa’s Grotto.
Our staff have lots of connections locally, and we put out a call for people to donate gifts we could pass on to families who may not otherwise have seen many, or any, Christmas presents.
We were absolutely overwhelmed by people’s generosity. Lovely gifts – for adults and children – came in every day until we barely had space to store them (a great problem to have!).
In addition to stories with Santa, we had the idea of setting up space for people to make their own reindeer food, have a go at arts and crafts and lots more.
We got together with the local team from Mind, who were on hand to share resources with people who were having problems coping, and with the local Early Years team who were able to give some reassurance and advice to parents with very young children.
On the day
Well the event was held on 16 December and people turned up in droves! We had a busy and wonderfully happy day in which we gave away free gifts to children for their parents and to parents for their children. We shared refreshments, fun and companionship. We even developed expert gift-wrapping skills!
One young mother got quite emotional at having the chance to chat with other people in the same position.
At the end of the day, we still had enough free toys left over to pass on to the local women’s refuge, enabling more struggling families to have a better Christmas.
Our Story Time with Santa event grew from a small idea into an event which put MacIntyre, our staff, and the people who draw on our support at the heart of our local community.
We’re already planning a bigger and better event for 2024!