We are living through a period of profound change. The challenges posed by austerity and post-Brexit uncertainty are huge. Overcoming them will require all of the innate resilience, talent and generosity for which the people of Yorkshire are known. If we are to tackle them, and make the most of any opportunities that arise, we must do so as a community, centred on the place we live – Barnsley.
Last week the Bishop of Leeds, The Right Reverend Nick Baines, spoke about the importance of place, and how – despite the growth in social media and virtual friendship networks – we remained rooted and shaped by the physical communities and environments in which we live. I agree, and for me, this idea of place and community is always at its strongest at Christmas.
For many of us, Christmas is a time when all roads lead home and we look forward to enjoying the company of those closest to us. At Christmas, everything takes on a special significance, whether that’s putting up the decorations, shopping for food, or watching films together as a family. There is no other occasion quite like it.
I am lucky. I will be at home in Barnsley, surrounded by my family this Christmas. Not everybody is that lucky. Not everybody has that chance to prosper or to feel part of our community. For too many people this is the hardest time of year. Loneliness, bereavement and anxiety all cast long shadows. And coupled with cold dark nights these factors often see a rise in mental health issues and feelings of isolation. I’m sorry to say that this year will again be no different.
A decade of austerity has resulted in more homelessness, poverty, debt and financial insecurity than we have seen in a generation. For too many people, Christmas this year will only serve to remind them of what they don’t have. And that’s why the work of charities like The Rucksack Project in Barnsley are so important.
Across South Yorkshire over a thousand people are homeless. Twice that number are living in temporary accommodation. And over a hundred people are sleeping rough. The Rucksack Project is a voluntary organisation that helps those people through the cold winter months. It’s not about grand gestures, and it’s not about donating lots of money or making a big commitment. It’s about giving up a little of your time, the odd old or unused belonging, to help somebody who has fallen on hard times.
The idea is that you get a rucksack and fill it with some items that will help to make winter a little more comfortable for someone who is sleeping rough. These include items like: a sleeping bag; a fleece or warm coat; some thick socks and unused underwear; gloves and a wooly hat; some non-perishable food, such as cans of soup (with ring pulls) and cereal bars; an empty thermos flask and a spoon. On Saturday, the 22nd December, at midday, please head along, with any and all belongings you wish to donate, to the Barnsley Churches Drop-in project on John Street (S70 1LL). Where you can become part of getting packs of donations to someone who is truly in need of your help.
Because Christmas needn’t be just about those people closest to you, it could and should be about the community we all live in, and all of us trying to care a little more.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 14 December 2018.