The facts about life after the UK care system are bleak: 1 in 5 homeless people have been in care and 1 in 5 care leavers go on to spend time in prison. Once discharged from the local authority care system, these 16-25 year old young adults are effectively on their own, often with very limited resources. In response, every year in towns and cities around the country, groups of volunteers host Christmas Dinner events, for as many of these young adults as possible, especially those who would be spending their first Christmas Day as independents alone.

Knowing how much comfort and delight a quilt can give, a small group of stitchers formed in October 2018 aiming to make a quilted ‘hug’ for each of the attendees at one of these festive events. In less than three months, they managed to collect 120 quilts, distributing 50 to the Manchester Dinner, 50 to Leeds and 17 to a smaller event in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

For 2019, Q4CL’s founder Maggie Lloyd-Jones set an ambitious target for the group’s first full year… 1000 quilts. The group grew quickly and very nearly achieved this number, gifting to all 16 Dinners that took place that year.

2020 saw it’s own challenges. Covid-19, successive lock downs and social distancing touched every part of life. Dinner events that year transformed from social gatherings to luxury festive hampers delivered to the doors of care leavers on Christmas morning. In a year when physical hugs were scarce, we still managed to get ours through to all those who wanted them, albeit chosen by email!

Q4CL begins 2021 with every bit of enthusiasm of that small initial group, now numbering over a thousand makers and volunteers. Our ultimate aim is to be able to offer a quilted ‘hug’ to every care leaver as they begin their independent lives. To do just that may take us some time, and exactly how we achieve that may evolve year on year, but the ways you can help remain the same. And all are welcome!

Lemn Sissay – a major source of inspiration for this project – was a child in care himself: aged just 12, he was returned to the care of the local authority by those who had fostered him since being placed with them as a baby. All Lemn wanted was a hug, some loving care. He left the system when he was 18 years old, later searching for, and finding his birth family. His mother had never agreed to a long term placement.

In 2013, Lemn initiated Christmas Day DInners for Care Leavers. In 2017 Lemn established the Gold From The Stone Foundation (GFTS), dedicated to offering support to individuals and agencies working to address the disadvantages faced by those in care and young adult care leavers. He became the first official Olympic Poet at the London 2012 Games and is currently Chancellor of the University of Manchester. He is also Canterbury’s Poet Laureate.

Knowing the comfort a quilt can bring, hearing him tell his story, inspired Maggie Lloyd-Jones to begin to make quilts to be offered at the GFTS Christmas dinners: a ‘quilty hug’ and lasting memento of the day.

Read Lemn Sissay’s blog to find out more …