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3 of the best Christmas charity appeals in Hertfordshire

12:00 04 December 2015

Dave Edwards

Dave Edwards' 2014 lights switch-on. Photograph: Chris Lloyd, 3 Rivers Council

Archant

The season of goodwill inspires all kinds of charity events. We spoke to three of the county’s most heart-warming festive fundraisers

A group of people from St Peters Church St Albans at 2014's SleepoutA group of people from St Peters Church St Albans at 2014's Sleepout

Mr Christmas

The village of Croxley Green near Watford is home to one of the best home Christmas-light displays not only in Hertfordshire but in the entire country – and it was also one of the first. Dave Edwards, known locally as Mr Christmas, began his festive-lights display at his home on Lance Way back in 1978 after gaining inspiration from houses he saw on a Christmas holiday to California. He installed a charity fundraising box outside after appreciative passers-by began throwing money on his front lawn, and more than 35 years later he’s raised tens of thousands of pounds, donating the money to different, mostly local, causes each year.

Previous recipients include the children’s ward at Watford Hospital, Croxley Green Scouts and the Stroke Association. The display now has around 30,000 lights, and in 2013 it was featured on Channel 5 documentary Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights. Since then, donations have reached up to £5,500 a year, and last year’s switch-on attracted around 1,200 people, with visitors from as far away as Canada.

Emma Goulding from Cookery EateryEmma Goulding from Cookery Eatery

Although he’s now almost 82, Edwards is disappointed his family won’t allow him up the ladders any more. ‘It takes two weeks to put the display up, and my daughter has roped-in help from volunteers, including my friend Spike, who is a builder and tackles the lights on the roof.’

He’s still very much involved however, passing out sweets to visiting children and organising the switch-on event for this year’s display, which takes place on November 21 at 6pm. ‘People arrive much earlier, so we’re putting on a disco on the front lawn and a magic display for the children,’ There are also plans for a Christmas grotto, as well as a visit from Walt Disney World characters on December 12.

Half the money raised this year will go towards funding a new air ambulance for Hertfordshire, and the rest to supporting Ryan Wiggins, a local boy with autism who performs guitar and carols to entertain visitors at the light switch-on. Dave says, ‘We’ve asked Ryan to turn the lights on for us – he’s so excited.’

Search Facebook for ‘Mr Christmas’s fundraising lights’ for updates.

Sleepout for homeless

On December 4, the annual St Albans Sleep-out will take place in the grounds of St Albans Abbey, with around 400 people spending a night sleeping rough to raise funds for the homeless

The event, which also gives participants a small insight into the plight of homeless people, particularly in winter, raises funds and awareness for around a dozen homelessness charities, including Dens, Herts Young Homeless and New Hope in the county.

Nafisa Mantel is events fundraiser for Watford-based New Hope (newhope.org.uk) and took part in the challenge last year. ‘It was a particularly cold one – temperatures went as low as minus three and in the morning there was frost on our sleeping bags. Knowing that sleeping rough is some people’s only option, when I had the choice to do it, it was difficult to digest. It made me extremely grateful for what I have.’

The event attracts support from school groups and businesses and last year the event raised £58,000, of which £8,000, as Mantel explains, went to New Hope ‘and covered the cost of food and support for one bed in our emergency accommodation for a year. But the numbers of homeless people have risen sharply in the past year, and show no sign of improving. Our services are currently full – we’re changing the way we do things to offer the best support we can.’

New Hope will have its doors open at all eight of its accommodations services on Christmas Day, providing a place of comfort for people with nowhere else to go. Mantel says, ‘We serve Christmas lunch and play games – we try to make it as normal a Christmas as possible.’

Sign up to the sleepout or give a donation at abbeysleepout.org.

Cookery Eatery cooks up something special

Last Christmas, Emma Goulding decided to use her Hitchin-based cooking school Cookery Eatery to reach out to people in need in the community. In collaboration with the Hitchin Volunteer Army, she set a goal to provide hampers of festive, nutritious food to five local families struggling to make Christmas special.

‘We ended up being able to help more than double that – we made a dozen hampers,’ Goulding says. ‘It turned into a huge community effort, with more than 600 donated items and five people giving up their homes to store them.

People would recognise me in the supermarket and go and buy some food to donate there and then, and one anonymous donor turned up at my door with case upon case of frozen food and a turkey, ham and sausages for every family. A barber even donated haircuts.’

It evolved into something that was about more than Christmas comforts. ‘When the local care agencies gave a list of the families we could help, there was everything from a family with six children to a mother and daughter who were both vegetarian. We decided to tailor every hamper to their individual needs and included recipe ideas so they could enjoy every item.’

Goulding’s company helps children and families overcome food issues and teaches parents to be more confident cooks, so she also offered every family a cooking session. This year, she has joined with several Hitchin organisations to offer help on a bigger scale. ‘The aim is to help 60 to 100 families between us. We’re using the Priory School as our packaging location, and need volunteer drivers and packers.’

The 2015 campaign launches on November 20, and people can leave donations at a number of Hitchin locations including Brookers hardware shop and Farley’s hair salon. Search Cookery Eatery on social media or visit cookeryeatery.co.uk for more.

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