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Three Inspiring North East Women Giving Up Their Christmas Day For Others

image: Unsplash
December 2021
Reading time 10 Minutes

Christmas is a hectic time of year for everyone, but most of us get time to unwind. However for some, the festive season doesn’t mean relaxing in front of the fire with a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine

We spoke to three local women about working over Christmas, and the moments that make it worthwhile.

BBC Radio Tees Presenter, Alex Hall

One of the greatest pleasures at this time of year is putting on the TV or radio and enjoying the festive entertainment, whilst (over) indulging in a box of chocolates. Far too often though, we forget to acknowledge those who work hard to keep us entertained over the festive season. BBC Radio Tees Presenter Alex Hall is one such inspiring local woman who ensures that we continue to have our dose of entertainment. Whether we are listening in the car, or when we’re preparing the turkey in the kitchen, people have to be at the station to make sure everything goes smoothly on air on Christmas Day. ‘Nobody is made to work on Christmas Day, but the atmosphere at the station is exactly the same as it is every other day,’ she explains. Many might presume the radio station is decked out with Christmas trees and festive decorations, but Alex tells us that she would be lucky to get a piece of tinsel draped over her microphone. ‘I think everybody is too busy and it just seems a bit of a faff. I think people working on Christmas Day for the first time might be shocked, but those of us who choose to be there love it! If you’ve got radio in your blood you’ll do it no matter what day it is,’ she tells us.

Despite the quiet of the day – Alex typically sees only one other person at the station on the big day – Alex insists the atmosphere is created on the waves rather than in the building. ‘It’s between you and your listeners, and it’s a privilege to share Christmas Day with everyone. I’ve got friends who ask “what time are you on air so we can peel the sprouts and listen to your show”, and some ring in to wish me happy Christmas, not to get on air, but just to say hi, which is lovely,’ Alex tells us. Lots of us spend our day with family or friends, but for others Christmas can be a lonely time of year and the nature of Alex’s job allows her to be a friendly voice in someone’s home. ‘It’s a privilege to share Christmas Day with people who listen in,’ she explains. ‘Whether that’s in the car on their way to a friend’s house, or the show being in the background when opening presents, or even just a cheerful voice as company. It’s a cheesy cliché, but you feel like the listeners are your family – I would miss it if I didn’t work.’

It might be a relatively low-key day inside the station, but Alex and her colleagues still spread some festive spirit by bringing in huge amounts of food to share. ‘There’s always loads of food like mince pies, tins of chocolate and some stollen – you’d never go hungry if you were broadcasting on Christmas Day,’ Alex tells us. And despite taking time out of her day to head into work, the radio presenter explains that she doesn’t miss out on anything either. ‘After work I head down to my daughter’s and spend the rest of the day with her and her family. I see my son in the morning then visit my sister before I do my show – so I get to see everyone on Christmas Day. It can be very strange walking away from the rest of the world when I go into the station, but I love it when you go out and see children riding their new bikes, and families going for walks with their (obviously) new hats on.’

Consultant in Emergency Care at Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, Jackie Gregson

 A trip to the hospital on Christmas Day might sound like the gift from hell for most, but for Jackie Gregson, a Consultant in Emergency Care, it’s just another day at work. ‘I’m on with a whole team of people including nursing staff and all my junior doctors, so we’re all in the same boat,’ she says. ‘It can be a quieter shift, but it’s still manic nevertheless.’ For healthcare workers, finding the balance between celebrating during the festive period and remaining respectful and professional when around patients can be quite a challenge. ‘You have to pick your time to be jovial because you can’t go in there wearing your Rudolph earrings when speaking to families to tell them their loved ones are poorly – it’s just not appropriate, and it’s important you get that balance right,’ Jackie continues. 

In terms of the work carried out on Christmas Day, Jackie explains that the hospital sees many Christmas-related injuries; burns from spilling the Christmas gravy, those who have stepped on pieces of Lego, little children who have swallowed something they shouldn’t, and of course many who have tummy ache from over-indulging. ‘The work doesn’t stop. There will always be cases on Christmas Day and we’re there for them when they come in – we just try and do it with a smile on our face because we understand they don’t want to be here on Christmas Day,’ Jackie explains. Luckily the Christmas Day shifts at the hospital are split, where some healthcare professionals will work between eight and four, while other shifts see the start of Christmas Day or the end of it. Jackie tells us that being at work on 25th December is just the nature of the job, and that from the very start of their careers doctors and nurses understand they’re signed up to work when needed. ‘We’re very considerate of each other’s needs though, and we try to balance it out. If someone has young children and wants to be at home in the morning for the opening of presents they’ll work the later shift,’ she explains. 

Although Christmas Day is really just like any other day (there are no decorations or Christmas trees in line with infection control) Jackie and her team do what they can to keep in the festive spirit. ‘We’ll do a buffet in the coffee room and staff bring in various bits of lovely food so we’re not just eating from the canteen, which is nice. Last year I brought everyone a chocolate orange as a thank you for working on Christmas Day as you can feel a little hard done by when you’re on the rota to work, but it’s actually quite a nice shift and everyone is in good spirits,’ she tells us. When Jackie is finished at the hospital she has a delicious Christmas dinner waiting for her at home. ‘My husband will cook the dinner and have it waiting for me so I don’t have to do any of that which is the good thing about working on Christmas Day! Or, if I’m on the late shift I can enjoy the food without having to do any washing up and there’s no drinking any alcohol of course, so another bonus is you never have a hangover the next day either.’

Volunteer at The People’s Kitchen, Chris Rickard

For a lot of us, the 25th December means spending most of our time in the house enjoying a deliciously cooked meal, opening presents and spending time with our families. For Chris Rickard, Christmas Day is just that – except she also heads to The People’s Kitchen to volunteer her time to help others. ‘I’ve volunteered there since 2014 and it’s a real privilege to be there and work with so many friends – we don’t call the people who come in clients or service users, but rather friends of The People’s Kitchen,’ Chris explains. For those who don’t have a roof over their heads, Christmas might feel like any other day. Chris explains that many of the friends come for more than just a hot meal. They need companionship, hot water and a place where they can shower. ‘Many of them might have accommodation but no gas or electricity, so won’t have any cooking facilities, and if you think of a Christmas dinner and how much it is to buy all the vegetables and the turkey, many people won’t do it just for one,’ says Chris. The People’s Kitchen is therefore a place for friends to come and enjoy the day just like we all do. The hall is decorated with Christmas decorations and there’s music for everyone to sing along to. ‘It’s such a lovely atmosphere, and rather than queuing for their food which they usually do, the friends will come into the hall where tables have been decorated with table cloths and they can sit down while we serve them a Christmas feast,’ Chris says.

Thanks to donations and money raised for The People’s Kitchen, volunteers like Chris are able to serve Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, as well as dessert and chocolates left on the tables for the friends to enjoy. Chris recalls a time when a family drove over to to donate some festive muffins for those using the service to enjoy throughout the day. ‘We organise shoe boxes filled with things like gloves, socks and toiletries for friends to take away, as well as having a raffle, but nobody has to buy a ticket, they can just win some gifts,’ Chris tells us. One year, a friend won a woman’s toiletries set but instead of keeping it for himself, he decided to gift it to Chris. ‘There are only so many times you can say no without offending someone. I was really touched and it made me feel really humble because I was going back to my home where I would have presents waiting for me under the tree,’ Chris says. 

Thanks to the pandemic, The People’s Kitchen haven’t been able to open properly, but instead, have been offering a takeaway service. ‘We’ve only just trialled opening up inside and it’s been lovely to see the smiles on people’s faces when they have come back into the hall,’ Chris says. The volunteers are working towards opening again for the festive period, and to be able to offer their Feed a Friend scheme. ‘On Christmas Day we open a little bit longer than other days,’ says Chris. ‘I usually go in around 11am until we close. It’s the middle part of the day but my children are adults now and I still get to spend some time with them – I’m so lucky that I have a family who understand that I feel I need to volunteer to help others on Christmas Day.’

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