In December 2016, Abbey House Museum, Leeds hosted a special Christmas celebration for the city’s children in care. This followed on from a toy appeal which they had been running for the previous six months.
As a community museum, with regular displays of Leeds social history and contemporary collecting, Abbey House has always recognised the importance of reaching out to all sections of the local community. They thought that community Christmas event for children in care would be a great way of building on this tradition.
Staff at the museum worked with local councillors and community associations, as well as the Child Friendly Leeds campaign to run the toy appeal. Toy boxes for the community to donate toys were hosted at the museum and at local businesses. They also involved employers like Lloyds Bank, Jet2, CEG and Leeds City College, who between them provided hundreds of toys and over £1000 in cash.
The Christmas celebration was held at Abbey House in December 2016. 180 children and young people aged 0-18 attended with their carers. The children were all from residential homes, foster homes or other permanent care arrangements.
The event included a tour of the museum, a chance to see Santa, performances from local bands who the museum has worked with in the past, craft activities, choir performances and even a magician. Local traders from our monthly deli market provided the food. The centrepiece was the toy room, where we had piled up all the donated toys, arranged into age bands, for the children to select their own gifts.
The children had a great time, and it was clear at the time and from the feedback we subsequently received, how moved both they and their carers were. For many, it was their first visit to a museum, and we know that many of them will be return visitors. We were particularly keen to ensure they knew how to use their Max cards, which provide free or discounted entry to attractions for children in care, for foster families and families of children with additional needs.
We are already working with Leeds fostering services to bring back smaller groups for more targeted engagements over the coming year.