Straddling the borders of Highgate and Haringey on the Archway Road, is the Jackson’s Lane Arts Centre, originally a Wesleyan Methodist church built in 1902. Since the 1970s however, it has been a largely volunteer run arts centre, nurturing dance, circus and theatrical talent (alumni include Eddie Izzard and David Walliams) while running a collection of community support programmes. These include a Christmas lunch for those who would otherwise be on their own.
Even had last Christmas not been turned into a non event by COVID, a major refurbishment of the church (as you can see, the work is still on going) would have made an on site Christmas lunch difficult. So the ever inventive organisers swopped to delivering Christmas hampers to their guests’ homes. This proved so successful that this year the aim was a hybrid: lunch at the centre for the 90 odd local residents who could make it and 100 plus hampers delivered around the borough. But COVID struck again and on 17th December it was decided that an on site lunch, given the potential vulnerability of the guests, was too dangerous and that everyone (nearly 300 in total) would instead a get a hamper delivered
Organising the filling and delivery of 300 hampers at the best of times is no mean feat – but these were no ordinary hampers… Here they are, all lined up in Studio three awaiting collection.
Over the previous days, a host of volunteers under the guidance of the unbelievably efficient and totally charming Jen Oliver, had called each of the invitees (all referrals from local authorities and other local organisations) to introduce themselves, ask whether the referees had any dietary preferences (vegetarian, allergies etc) and explain that their lunches would be delivered and how to reheat them. These details had all been fed into individual spreadsheets, one for each of the more than 30 volunteer delivery drivers, along with the recipients’ address, phone number and any relevant personal details – whether it would take them a long time to answer the door, whether they were chatty or shy, would like volunteers to enter their flats or prefer that they stayed outside. The drivers (of whom, I was one) were asked to call ‘our’ people, to introduce ourselves, have a short chat and explain that we would deliver their lunch on Christmas day. On line Zoom meetings were set up to make sure we all knew what we were doing and so that we could ask questions.
Meanwhile, another army of volunteers spent several days preparing the food and filling the bags. So, when we arrived at our appointed pick up times on Christmas morning, all of our bags, complete with the right labelled food (green ribbons for vegetarian meals, red for meat based), instructions for heating plus a cracker and a gift (woolly socks, a scarf, a woolly hat) were lined up on the floor of Studio 3 by our name tags, ready to be collected and ticked off on the list.
All drivers were asked to take a Jackson’s Lane lanyard off the Christmas tree to identify themselves to the recipients – and to help themselves to a brownie or a mince pie from the pile on the table by the tree.
I was allocated an early pick up time so had done my rounds – including a lengthy chat on the doorstep of three of my six deliveries – by around 11.30. Drivers were still arriving – a fellow driver on his way to collect….
And Christmas over, I cannot wait for the new programme in the refurbished theatre and activity spaces.
The London International Mime Festival first up in mid January, followed by Australian circus strong-lady Charmaine Childs in Power at the end of the month, and then The Chosen Haram in early February – dealing with themes around sexuality, faith, addiction and connection performed on two Chinese poles….. For the community based projects, check in here.