Each year thousands of children leave the formal care system in the UK and officially enter the 'adult world' after turning 18.

With the absence of foster families or care homes, many can find it difficult and not least during the festive period when so many of us are with family and friends.

To that end, Sian Thomas founded Richmond's Christmas Day Dinner programme back in 2017.

Like similar projects in other parts of the UK (Richmond is one of only two London boroughs to have the scheme) Christmas Day Dinner supports care leavers every Christmas Day by offering a free Christmas Dinner, presents and hampers of essential goods to keep care leavers going and bolster their spirits during the holidays.

"Over my career I'd seen young people just spend it on their own and I thought if the community new about it they would want to do something," Sian, whose background is in nursing, told the RTT.

On Christmas Eve in 2016 she met a homeless person outside Burger King who told her he had been in foster care and once the placement after the foster period broke down he ended up on the streets.

"I could have told you his story before he told me," she said. "It was all very predictable. That was when I thought I needed to do something.

"We started it without a penny and the entire day is entirely dependant on donations, from the venue to the presents to the food, and people's time too.

"It's a Christmas Day dinner, on Christmas Day. It's for care leavers, that's people aged 18 who are leaving the care system, if they've been in foster care or in children's homes," Sian added.

"Aged 18 they leave the system and go into hostels, their own flats, bedsits, but it means on Christmas Day they don't have anyone to spend the day with," she added.

This year she and fellow volunteers will deliver the goods to around 50 young adults in the borough, plus in neighbouring Kingston and Hounslow, now leaving the care system.

Typically the project hosts a Christmas Day Dinner at a venue on December 25 every year, but restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic will see volunteers deliver gifts and food to care leavers individually.

Kids can be removed from their parents for a variety of reasons including emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, neglect or the death of their parents. 

They are then placed in the care system with foster families or in children's homes but that ends when they turn 18, unlike those of us whose families continue to support us long after we become formal adults.

The entire project is built on the efforts of Sian and her fellow volunteers — on the day itself and in the run up to Christmas Day too.

Sian for example fundraised for the cause by cycling from Marrakech to Agadir last year, a feat not really feasible during Covid-19.

Instead, more donations will be needed this year, and the hope is the community will respond as they have since 2017.

Schools have donated bread, St Mary's University in Twickenham help deliver the presents and a local butchers Bruce in Twickenham the meat, and supermarkets including the Co-Op and Waitrose also chip in, though most donations come from individual members of the public.

In addition to the Christmas Day meal, presents from £1 up to much larger presents of whatever people can donate are appreciated with Christmas Day Dinner, while the essential hampers feature donations of key items like dried or tinned food, tea, coffee and so on.

Over £5,000 has already been raised by Christmas Day Dinner Richmond, but the group aim to raise another £5,000 for this year's event.

"The pandemic is actually the last on the list for many of these young people's problems," Sian said. "Trying to feed themselves is much more important to them. We've already had messages asking whether they can come this year.

"I think the sense of isolation and loneliness is heightened this year, especially among the most vulnerable.

"Many care leavers can only find low-paid work, with only six per cent going to university," she pointed out. "When new jobs arise they are going up against people with degrees so there is a huge demand from them. Many of this cohort survive on food banks.

To that end, Christmas Day Dinner provide an absolutely vital service at this time of year, and this year most of all:

"There's a feeling of not being forgotten," Sian said.

"The dinner is to celebrate the resilience and strength  of care leavers," she added. "They're amazing." 

For more information and to donate, click here.