• 02 February 2015

How Black Santa makes a difference

A charity training dogs to literally transform people’s lives was one of almost 200 to be awarded a share of money raised by the annual Black Santa Sitout at Belfast Cathedral.

Almost £180,000 was distributed at the Good Samaritans’ Service in St Anne’s on Sunday February 1 with special guest Songs of Praise presenter Claire McCollum.

The recipients ranged from small charities, run by a handful of volunteers, to national charities who need every penny to help the people who rely on them here in Northern Ireland. They included charities working with children and the elderly, charities specialising in music, in sport and arts, charities whose support is a lifeline in deprived communities, charities who strive to find cures and comforts, and charities who work overseas.

Assistance Dogs NI will use its grant to buy equipment for five pups currently in training for a role which will transform life for a child with autism or someone with a disability. The dogs’ skills include loading a washing machine, switching lights on and off, and providing a ‘safety anchor’ for children.

The dogs help promote independence. They address challenging behaviour, help children to express their emotions, and give people a reason to go outside.

Becca has autism and has an assistance dog named Honey. Becca used to have violent meltdowns and also self–harmed. “Since we got Honey this has all ended,” said Becca’s mum Michelle. “Honey has made a huge impact. Our daughter is now happier and much more confident.”

Cahoots NI brings magic, illusion and live music to children. A Black Santa grant will allow Cahoots to take its ‘Magic Menu’ show into the homes of children receiving treatment for cancer.

The project aims to provide fun and happy memories for children who are isolated for fear of infection and for the whole family at a time of great upheaval.

Live Music Now
Live Music Now
Older people in rural care homes are able to enjoy live music from professional musicians thanks to a project by Live Music Now. A Black Santa grant will support this programme, which is also delivered to people with disabilities and learning difficulties in day centres.

Sightlines will use its grant to bring theatre, dance and exhibitions to life for blind people by describing characters, costumes and sets, and providing a script on a headset. The money will help train blind people to use the technology so that every visit to the theatre is a positive experience.

The Huntington’s Disease Association receives a grant to help reduce the social isolation of sufferers of this incurable condition, which often leads to depression and suicide, by offering a befriending service.

A spokesperson said: “The sheer joy and increased optimism experience by those taking part is remarkable. Their mood is lifted and remains high in anticipation of further such events which will take them, however temporarily, out of a ‘four walls’ existence.”

For some refugees and asylum seekers in Northern Ireland, the street is their home and they may not know where their next meal is coming from.

A Black Santa grant will help the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers make life more bearable for those facing hardship by giving small cash handouts for food, and stocking nappies and formula, and running monthly international food days.

The Dean of Belfast, the Very Revd John Mann said: “Sometimes I wonder has Black Santa run its course and if the constant appeal for charity funds is something that needs to be re–invigorated with fresh thinking every few years. 

“Then I go out onto the steps of the Cathedral before Christmas, drag out the barrel and, before I have my hat and gloves on, a passer–by digs deep for a coin or note, uttering ‘that’ll start you on your way’ or some such encouragement. “I just know that this channel to support the wonderful charitable work of others in the community is here to stay.  Make no mistake, this is heart–warming and humbling.”