Christmas stocking campaign spreads festive cheer to those in need

Volunteers dressed as elves filling Christmas stockings

The Christmas Stocking Campaign from Mandalay Wellbeing CIC aims to spread some festive cheer in Great Yarmouth this Christmas - Credit: Archant

The East of England Co-op's #EastTogether campaign, in partnership with Archant, explores the positive impacts of community action in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Here Trevor Saunders explains how community interest company Mandalay Wellbeing is spreading holiday cheer with its Christmas Stocking Campaign.  

Everybody deserves a gift and a good memory of Christmas – but it can be tough for some. Which is why Great Yarmouth based community interest company Mandalay Wellbeing is doing its best to spread a little joy, with the distribution of Christmas stockings to those in need.  

The idea for a festive campaign came in June 2018 when Mandalay Wellbeing director Trevor Saunders was approached by Towergate Insurance Brokers in Norwich. “They offered us 200 Christmas stockings,” recalls Trevor. “It was summer and I thought: ‘What am I going to do with these?’ 

“I decided to fill the stockings with gifts and give them to the homeless, so we went to local businesses and groups to ask them for donations. We soon realised that it is not just homeless people we could help – there are a lot of families in need.” 

Man dressed in Christmas jumper in shopping arcade

Trevor Saunders, director at Mandalay Wellbeing CIC, is a former professional football player that dedicates his time to helping people get access to employment opportunities, food and healthcare - Credit: Archant

Mandalay Wellbeing CIC already had plenty of experience in helping people. Established in 2017 as a not-for-profit social enterprise, it runs initiatives to help the unemployed find work, offers men’s mental health services and provides support groups for the homeless. 

It also provides food and clothing distribution across Norfolk and Waveney from its shop in Victoria Arcade, with more than 13,000 food parcels delivered to families in need and frontline workers at James Paget University Hospitals, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital and care homes in the region. 

The 2018 festive campaign was a success and the following year, Towergate Insurance Brokers provided another 2,500 stockings, to be filled with donations of food, toiletries, books and children’s toys – and the scheme has continued. 

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Today, the stockings are distributed via a voucher-based system that ensures those most in need are provided for.  

“We try to find people in local communities that might have been forgotten about,” Trevor says. “A transgender woman came to us and we made a stocking especially for her with the help of the care home she was staying at. She said no one had ever done anything like that for her before. It was very emotional. 

“Our motivation is the child that will get a Christmas stocking this year and have a happy memory that they may not have had without us. Or the family that receives a food parcel that otherwise would not have had anything to eat. I know what it’s like – I was homeless myself once and needed support, even though I was in full-time work.” 

After approaching local businesses for donations in 2018, Trevor and his team of volunteers also set up collection points at supermarkets across East Anglia, as well as hosting events at the Forum in Norwich and in Lowestoft Library. As Christmas Day approached, the shop in Victoria Arcade was transformed into Santa’s Grotto. It was such a success that it is happening again this year.  

Teddy bears in stockings next to a Christmas tree

The East of England Co-op donated £150 of Co-op vouchers towards the Christmas Stocking Campaign - Credit: Archant

For 2020, the East of England Co-op donated £150 of Co-op vouchers towards the Christmas Stocking Campaign. “The East of England Co-op is the sort of organisation that you can always go to and explain what you’re doing,” Trevor says. “Their support has been brilliant – they are there when you really need it. And that’s what keeps you going.” 

Trevor is already thinking about how he can support his community in the New Year. 

“Once Christmas is over and we come out of the pandemic, our employment initiatives are key. We want to engage with jobseekers and potential employers to find entry-level jobs for the long-term unemployed.” 

Trevor, a finalist for the Unsung Hero/Heroine award at the Stars of Norfolk and Waveney Awards 2020, played professional football for Norwich City and was reserve goalkeeper when the Canaries won the League Cup in 1985.  

“We would love for Delia Smith to get each of the Norwich City Football Club players to fill a stocking!” he says.  

It is the same energy that led to success in his footballing career that drives Trevor’s irrepressible desire to empower others. “I always have to keep going, save the next shot, help the next person. I don’t have time to stop and look back. 

“Yesterday I was planning employment initiatives and today I’m going through funding applications with an elf,” he laughs. “Even if we run out of money, we won’t stop. It’s all about moving forward.”   

For more information please visit www.mwcic.org.uk or contact info@mwcic.co.uk 

Watch the first episode of #EastTogether exploring the Mandalay Wellbeing CIC Christmas Stocking Campaign at www.eastofengland.coop/easttogether 

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