Love came down at Christmas...
Did you read the shocking report which revealed that a family of four spends a whopping £1,695 during the Christmas period? It is so easy to become bogged down with the materialistic side of Christmas and forget its true meaning. The ‘Get in the picture’ project, which was trialled by evangelist Chris Duffett the previous year, encourages people to engage with the Christmas story in a new, non-threatening way. The idea is that people are invited to have their photograph taken as part of a live nativity tableau. These photographs are then available for free download from the website, or can be sent as e-cards to family and friends.
So, when Churches Together in Central Peterborough decided to take part in this initiative, I was happy to become involved. It was truly an ecumenical project and included the Cathedral and Anglican churches of St Mark’s, St Mary’s and St John’s, All Souls RC, Park Road Baptist Church, the Society of Friends, and Westgate Church.
First task was to find premises. Queensgate came up trumps and offered us an empty shop unit in Long Causeway, rent free. We were liable for business rates, but the Peterborough City Council waived 80% of those, too. So far, so good. Then came all the red tape – the signage (including planning permission), risk assessments (one for the donkey too!), music licence, public liability insurance, consent forms, emergency procedures, fire safety precautions... and so it went on. But it was all worth it. Despite the short timescale, with the help of an army of volunteers at ‘the big clean’, and many others pulling out all the stops, we were ready for the opening ceremony. The deputy mayor and a real live donkey were guests of honour, both of whom behaved impeccably.
The shop was open for a total of 12 days or part days in the three weeks leading up to Christmas. As well as ‘Get in the picture’, we were offering free refreshments, including coffee, tea or soft drinks, mince pies and gingerbread biscuits. Of course, the word quickly spread amongst the homeless fraternity, and we had our regulars who came in for a warming cup of tea or three, and left with mince pies in their pockets. But that’s exactly what we were about. We’d been quite firm in our belief that no money would exchange hands in our ‘shop’, but there was a donation box available for those who wished to contribute. We are delighted to report that these voluntary donations amounted to £143.66 which has been given to Project Hosanna, for the vulnerable and homeless in Peterborough.
I have some very special memories, perhaps the most poignant being the volunteer who phoned her husband to bring in a sleeping bag and blanket to give to one of our visitors on a bitterly cold and snowy night. But many joyous ones too – the live baby Jesus’s (at one point we had two live babies in the crib), some amazing angels (you may recognise the one with the beard!), the youths who came in, dressed up and were photographed – and then went out into the cold, dark street to encourage others in. But most of all, what made it all worth it was the opportunity to bring a little joy and happiness into the lives of Peterborough’s busy shoppers.
We had a prayer tree, a display of children’s nativity scenes, as well as a colouring competition, and a stunning array of costumes including kingly hats, and angel’s wings and halos.
We have a whole host of people to thank for making this project the success it was – the donations of mince pies and gingerbread biscuits, coffee, straw, fire retardant spray, fire extinguisher, Christmas tree, and the loan of dressing up clothes, crib, babies, mannequin... the list goes on. We are, of course, grateful to Network Peterborough for giving us a welcome grant to help with the expenses.
This has been a wonderful example of teamwork. There were over 75 different names on the rota for manning the shop – what an achievement! A big thank you to you all. Shall we do it again next year?
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