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Post | December 2022 | For volunteers | 3 min read

Gill's Story

Written by Bryony Mounter
Image shows two volunteers dressed in Christmas jumpers hugging each other and smiling at the camera.

Thanks to the soaring cost-of-living, providing a magical Christmas experience has never been harder for struggling families. Read how volunteer, Gill (pictured above right), is making a difference to the lives of local children and parents this festive season. 

By day, Gill Harrison works for local charity, Spark Somerset, as an Open Mental Health Community Engagement worker, developing opportunities and resources to support those struggling with their mental health. During the festive season, she also volunteers as one of Santa’s helpers to deliver a little happiness to children in Taunton and Wincanton. 


It all started back in 2015, when Gill's friend - a teacher at a Taunton primary school - came to her with a tale that broke her heart. Two students had approached Gill’s friend, each holding the gold foil wrapper from a small piece of chocolate, and told her they were the only Christmas presents they had received that year. Shocked, moved, and emotional, Gill saw that there was a need within her community for a scheme that would help ensure all local children can have something under the tree at Christmas, regardless of their family's financial situation.  


With that, the Christmas Sparkle Project was born.  


The premise of the project's operation is straight-forward; members of the public are encouraged to donate gifts for children at a number of drop-off points across the area. They are then collected and put into parcels with other items to be gifted to local children. In its first year, the Project ran for eight weeks and saw 500 gifts generously donated across the Taunton area. Since then, it has expanded significantly, with 8,000 items put into 2,231 gift boxes this year alone – a remarkable show of support for families who need it most.  


“It’s a proper community project,” Gill explains. “Everyone who hears about it wants to get involved.” 


But there is much more to the community involvement than the donation of gifts. With so many presents to wrap before they're delivered, the Christmas Sparkle Project holds Wrapping Events during the lead up to the holidays. Volunteers from age 12 and upwards are welcome to come along and spend a few hours putting parcels together, like the elves in Santa’s workshop. This year, over 40 individuals volunteered to wrap gifts, including volunteers from MyDay, a service for adults with learning disabilities - and young people completing their Duke of Edinburgh Award. 


“People really get into the spirit of it and some even get dressed up,” Gill says.  


As is the case with a number of groups and projects across the voluntary and community sector, the fallout of the cost-of-living crisis is becoming increasingly apparent to Gill and the Christmas Sparkle team. The project has seen a 45% rise in requests for gifts this year as more and more families are beginning to feel the pinch. However, in true festive spirit, this need was met by a huge swell in donated gifts and generous financial contributions from local businesses. 


“It is very sad that we have seen such an increase,” Gill explains, “but I am grateful for and heartened by the kindness and generosity of the local community who have given so much more this year to enable us to meet the demand. 


“Christmas is a time of giving; a chance to look outward into our communities and see what we can offer to those who need it most, and this year it feels more crucial than ever. The magic of the season is something we should all enjoy but for children, it’s even more important. 


"If you can volunteer with us - do. Let's make Christmas sparkle for every child." 

A parent of a child who benefitted from the project explains: "My little boy’s face lit up when he picked up his present from school. He's had a tough few years and your present has lifted his spirt and shown him how our communities look after those who are vulnerable."


If you would like to support Gill and The Christmas Sparkle Project next year, please get in touch via their Facebook page. If you've been inspired to volunteer in 2023, see what other opportunities are available via the link below.

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