• 01 February 2019

Black Santa grants focus on homelessness and mental health

Two hundred and twenty local charities, including those working with the homeless and with people with mental health issues, will receive grants from Belfast Cathedral’s Black Santa Appeal at a special service on Sunday February 3.

The Sit–out by Dean Stephen Forde, the Bishop of Down and Dromore and Canons of the Cathedral in the week before Christmas 2018 raised £168,000. Special guest Lynda Bryans, journalism lecturer and former broadcaster, will hand over the cheques at Sunday’s Good Samaritans Service.

The Sit–out was founded in 1976 by Dean Sammy Crooks, dubbed Black Santa by the local media because of his black Anglican cloak, and the tradition is continued every year by the Dean of the Cathedral.

Charities to benefit from the money donated all do vital work in the community, supporting children, people with disabilities, the elderly, and families who are socially disadvantaged. A portion goes to Christian Aid to help people in need overseas.

The Dean has this year focused on organisations which support the homeless and also charities helping peoplewith mental health issues. All grants range from £550 to £1,000.

Some of the larger charities to benefit include Shelter, the Simon Community and the Welcome Organisation, and smaller charities include The Wave Project, which offers surf therapy and beach schools to help young people feel less anxious and more engaged in education, and east Belfast–based Fighting Words.

Fighting Words runs creative writing workshops for children and young people. Volunteer mentors inspire the young writers to develop their self–expression and self–esteem. The project prioritises children from disadvantaged communities, and the Black Santa grant will fund travel costs for volunteer mentors to assist in more workshops and provide them with personal development training in areas such as working with autism. 

The Over the Hill Music Collective, pictured above, receives a grant of £550. This unique project gives older musicians a space for freedom of expression and a place to build confidence and community. The charity is now working with people in late stage dementia in north and west Belfast. The Black Santa grant will help the organisation train more musicians to work with these older groups.

Rosie’s Trust, which also receives a £550 grant, strives to help people dealing with terminal illness, disability, or receiving cancer treatment to stay together with their pets. Pain, tiredness, and costs mean the person can feel the only option is to give their pet up, and this causes stress, guilt and even grief. 

Rosie's Trust
Rosie's Trust
Rosie’s Trust volunteers walk dogs, empty cat litter trays, arrange vet appointments and even offer short term fostering, so the owner knows their pet will always be there for them.

Reflecting on the Good Samaritans Service, Dean Forde said: “It is an amazing privilege to be able to distribute £168,000 in one afternoon to 220 charities. This recognises the trust the public places in the Cathedral by giving so generously to us so we can pass that generosity on to the people and organisations that need it the most.

“The range of charities and the work that is done is very humbling because so many people give of their time and talents to support others.”

Dean Forde said he hopes to focus on particular areas each year. “This year I have chosen once again to support those charities working with homeless people and rough sleepers, as this continues to be a very serious, visible and complex issue in the city of Belfast.  It is why we are working with charities and organisations who have knowledge and expertise.

“We are also focusing on organisations supporting people who are facing mental ill health. I am aware this is an issue which touches the lives of many people and those that know them best. It is an area still in need of significant resourcing.”