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Thurrock Council’s Give A Gift campaign collects presents in the run up to Christmas for local children in need who may not receive a gift on Christmas day. Winner of Best Community and Neighbourhood Initiative at the APSE Service Awards 2019, Thurrock Council spoke to APSE Direct  about this inspirational scheme. 

Sometimes it is the simplest ideas that can be the most powerful and have the greatest impact for those in need. 

The simple act of giving a child a present at Christmas is a joy universally understood. The excited, wide-eyed expression on that little person’s face as they tear off the paper on Christmas Day morning; parents looking on lovingly; Christmas tree sparkling with decorations, standing guard over even more brightly wrapped presents. 

Which is why it is so heart-breaking when we know, for some children, Christmas Day is, at best, just another day – and at worst, a painful reminder of the harsh circumstances life has thrown at them.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Thurrock Council has corporate parental responsibility for hundreds of children. Children Looked After can be any age, ranging from unborn babies to teenagers. Some need to be with brothers and sisters and some will be on their own.

#GiveAGift, our APSE Award winning initiative, was back for a fourth year, promising to give gifts to all of the looked-after children and young people across Thurrock this Christmas.

In what has become the best pairing since Santa met Rudolf, the Council has worked in partnership with intu Lakeside to run this campaign. It centres on a Christmas tree, located in a shop unit at intu Lakeside (donated to the council free of charge), decorated with red stars, each one representing a child in need in Thurrock. Each star has an alias name, along with the actual age and gender of the child. People are invited to choose a star and asked to purchase an age/gender appropriate present for a child and return it back to the tree. The council volunteers and social workers then ensure that the present is wrapped and delivered to the child in time for Christmas Day. 

The generosity of intu Lakeside was the catalyst for other local businesses following suit and within weeks, IKEA Thurrock provided the furniture for a cosy corner, the desk space so volunteers could work and two full window displays. Tesco Lakeside, Morrisons Grays and M&S Lakeside provided hundreds of crates to support the logistics of moving the gifts. Thames Oil Port delivered £2,000 worth of presents, Specsavers Lakeside provided bulk items to support the wrapping of presents and there were many more…  All of this harnessing community spirit before the unit had even opened!
The project’s aims include: 

  • presents being donated for over 2,400 Thurrock children that were age and gender specific, to be hand delivered by social workers in time for Christmas day
  • to secure a shop unit for free at intu Lakeside during their busiest time of year
  • identifying local businesses who would be able to support by donating items from an essential wish list to support the logistics of #GiveAGift as well as presents for the children
  • to secure over 120 council staff volunteers to run the unit covering shifts for two full weeks, twelve hours a day during intu Lakeside’s Christmas opening hours, a total of 168 hours 
  • to secure council staff volunteers to support the wrapping of over 2,400 gifts at the Civic Offices.

Our aim to have a present for 2,400 children was exceeded last year! We had a surplus of presents after all our children had received a Christmas gift, which meant we were able to provide dozens of presents to our local women’s refugee, the rape and incest crisis centre and also to our children’s outreach centre.  

We received handmade thank you cards from some of the children and one Mum even commented she wouldn’t have been able to have such a wonderful Christmas without this project. We were also able to provide a non-verbal teenager with an iPad and specialist programme for communicating. Receiving this gave him the opportunity for the first time in his life to share his Christmas wishes with his Mum. The campaign really has been life changing to so many young people in Thurrock.

The unit at intu Lakeside opened this year from Monday 25 November until Sunday 8 December 2019, where anyone could:

  • come along to the #GiveAGift unit at intu Lakeside
  • choose a star from the tree
  • buy a gift for the child they’ve chosen and bring their gift back to the unit
  • write a gift tag wishing the child a Happy Christmas
  • hand the present and tag to a #GiveAGift volunteer who will be looking after the tree
  • the present will then be wrapped and delivered to the child in time for Christmas

The council’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts are used to raise awareness and promote #GiveAGift. Daily posts were scheduled in the run up last year (and will be the same for this year!), starting with one tweet, one week before launch reaching 28,958 people. Daily updates were posted from the unit with the amount of presents donated and stories from customers the unit volunteers met. 

We had 13,400 organic reach on our Facebook post the day the unit launched, which resulted in 376 reactions, comments and shares. Collectively over 182,000 individuals were reached through the campaign via social media – clearly demonstrating community awareness and collaboration. Social media is a great tool to connect with our residents so that they could feel a real sense of involvement and have real-time results as the campaign progressed. 

A wall tally of donated presents proved particularly powerful in that for every 100 presents donated another star was added to the wall and announced on social media; incentivising the community to help push these figures up and also clearly defining how many presents were still needed. A branded #GiveAGift Instagram frame was also used. Donators and volunteers at the unit were encouraged to use the frame to show their support which were then shared on the council’s social media platforms as well as on their own – again giving the community another opportunity to feel involved.

Unless anyone is thinking of cancelling Christmas any time soon, there is no reason why #GiveAGift cannot continue for many years to come. Sadly, there will always be children in need regardless of whatever systems and safeguarding methods the council has in place. 

But with the amazing residents and partners that we have here in Thurrock, our children should always have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. Every child deserves a little magic at Christmas. 


Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.






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