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The University of Westminster continues London's charitable traditions at Christmas
24 December 2020
The University of Westminster has a long and dedicated history of charitable donation – particularly at Christmas time.
Our archives teams found articles dating back to 1888 showing pupils of the Polytechnic Day School, a historic institution of the University of Westminster, deciding to establish a Christmas Dinner Fund.
The Polytechnic Magazine of 13 Dec 1888 tells us: ‘The boys and girls of our Day School are determined not to be the only ones to spend a happy Christmas, for they have arranged to collect sufficient money to give at least 500 poor children a good Christmas dinner in our Gymnasium….it is proposed to give each child a good dinner of roast beef and plum pudding, a bag of cake and fruit, and a new sixpence.’
The children were selected from the ragged schools in the area and the Day School raised enough money to not only provide 500 children with Christmas dinner, but also to provide 100 children with a free dinner every day throughout January and February 1889. The scheme was such a success that it was became a yearly event.
Over the years adjustments were made, in 1889 it was decided that families would prefer to be together for their Christmas dinner so, rather than hosting the meal, food parcels consisting of a joint of meat and groceries were provided. Initially, these parcels were distributed across London by volunteers from the Poly but as the number of recipients increased, this became impractical. So, on Christmas Eve each year, the Poly turned into a food bank where those with tickets could come and collect their parcels.
In January 1905, the Magazine describes the experience of coming to collect a parcel: ‘Tickets were duly checked on the Balcony, and this done, the happy possessors passed on to the Gymnasium Gallery where seats were in readiness for them and steaming hot tea with cake… After this acceptable refreshment the people filed on to the next floor where the classrooms had for the time being been converted into a huge provision store, and tables creaked under the weight of some twenty tons of good old English beef and parcels of grocery, making the place a veritable land of plenty’.
The amount raised increased every year and consequently, so did the number of people who benefited from the Fund. By the end of the 19th century over £400 was being raised each year (over £38,000 today) and 1,600 families were being fed. The Magazine estimates this was around 8,000 individuals. In time, gifts for children were added to the parcels. In 1912, when 4,700 families (30,000 individuals) were fed, the Poly also provided thousands of toys, garments, scrap books and packets of sweets.
The Christmas Dinner Fund continued even during the First World War. In 1940, it merged with the Poly War Comforts Fund providing parcels to men on active service. Between 1888 – 19401 million individuals and raised over £73,259 (nearly £4million today).
The University is still involved in similar work today. For the last six years Westminster has collaborated with the Baker Street Quarter, last year organising a food bank appeal, toy appeal and put on a fundraising carol service. Over £200 was raised and 500 gifts were collected by 42 businesses within the Quarter. This year we are taking part in the Christmas Family Appeal, supporting Greenhouse Sports and North Paddington Foodbank in bringing festive cheer to some of Westminster’s most vulnerable families. The fundraiser aims to provide over 600 households with personalised Christmas hampers containing practical items and gifts. As physical donations are not possible this year, the team has set up an online fundraiser, from which donations will be used to purchase food, products and toys for the personalised hampers. You can donate by choosing Christmas Family Appeal on the drop down menu at the University of Westminster’s donation page.
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