‘Voices from the ‘Frontline’: Creating a Psychologically Informed Christmas for homeless young people at Centrepoint*…’

Dr Helen Miles
17 min readDec 22, 2023

22.12.2023: For this latest PIE blog, the last of 2023, instead of just my words as the Head of Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) at the national youth homeless charity — Centrepoint, I have the pleasure of co-producing this with many different voices from our ‘frontline’ services in Centrepoint*. The Christmas period, as I have noted in previous PIE blogs (see here: https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/tis-the-season-a-psychologically-informed-reflection-on-christmas-e7befb785790 and here: https://drhelenmiles.medium.com/compassion-at-christmas-and-the-homeless-nativity-story-3a263b4645a5), can be a difficult time of the year for homeless young people. Whilst for most of us it is a time of joy and celebration, of reconnection with family and friends, there are sadly many young people in the UK right now for whom Christmas is not the ‘perfect’ John Lewis (or other retailer) advert. Perhaps they do not have family or friends to spend it with or even that spending it with them may be re-traumatising or full of conflict. Of course, as I also note in this previous PIE blog, it is important that try to avoid the ‘trap’ of believing that we must have the ‘perfect Christmas’. Does this even exist outside of advertising and social media? Nevertheless, just because a young person is homeless at this time of year, it does not mean we should not try and create a psychologically safe ‘home’ within our services and give them a different experience of Christmas than they have perhaps experienced before, and that is what many of our ‘frontline’ services have been striving to create over the past few weeks and over the coming Christmas period.

So what does a ‘psychologically informed Christmas’ look like in Centrepoint supported accommodation services? Most importantly, I wanted to start by acknowledging the amazing work that many of our frontline staff do at this time of the year. Of course, unlike many places, our supported accommodation services do not close over the festive period meaning that our staff are sometimes not with their own family and friends. Instead, they work extremely hard to support homeless young people to have a positive experience of Christmas, perhaps for the first time in their lives, so that they can feel like they are ‘home’ even if being in a Centrepoint service is not where they would really like to be at this time of the year. Readers of this blog can support this work by donating to Centrepoint’s Christmas campaign here: https://centrepoint.org.uk/virtual-gifts and the importance of this work is highlighted in this advert campaign here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmvfRYdPuTo.

Therefore, for this PIE blog, I wanted to highlight this often ‘unseen’ work in creating a psychologically informed Christmas by giving readers a little ‘tour’ around some of our services to see and hear about what this actually looks like in practice. Moreover, as Centrepoint’s Director of Services: Ed Tytherleigh rightly notes, creating a psychologically informed Christmas for the homeless young people can also start to build a foundation for future support work. He writes, “Christmas is a brilliant way to develop relationships with young people. It is a great way to co-produce how we celebrate in services, through encouraging young people to join in decorating, or preparing the meal, or other ways we celebrate this occasion or any other festive season. This is also why we are changing how we give gifts to young people this year, by providing specific funds for our keyworkers to purchase something that is personalised around their relationship and knowledge of that young person. We hope that the festive season will provide lots of opportunities to continue to build positive psychologically informed support relationships that will set a precedent for their future”.

Donna Grieves (Project Manager, Support & Housing Services) reflects, “Christmas can be a difficult time of year for the majority of our young people”. She rightly notes that “this is not just for the one or two days that the actual celebrations take place, but for the month long build up when adverts on television show highly filtered versions of what Christmas ‘should be’, and decorations and Christmas music are everywhere around us. In our services you can feel the build-up of tensions, emotions and stresses”. This can mean that “this time of year comes with lots of challenges for our services” and “the number of incidents in services increases in December”. Taking a psychologically informed understanding of this time and why young people might be experiencing heightened feelings of anger, depression, anxiety, rejection, loneliness and even suicidal ideation is important for staff to be able to support them and understand any ‘challenging behaviours’.

Consequently, “this is why for most of our services, Christmas planning starts at the end of the summer” and staff continue to have access to regular as well as ‘on-call’ support from the PIE team during this period. Donna specifically reports that staff have to start early to “source donations and funding for presents, activities and food” and that they spend time “discussing with young people what they would like their Christmas to be like this year, supporting them to make that happen through various activities such as ice skating, movie nights and gingerbread house building”. Donna notes other examples such as “staff dressing up as Santa to make breakfast for everyone, laying the dinner table in a special way that rivals the fanciest of restaurants, holding games events such as in-house ‘Taskmaster’ and Christmas Eve PJ’s / Hot Chocolate parcels that the ‘Christmas Elves’ have left for everyone. In short, doing all of the same things and making the same efforts that we all might do for our family and friends”.

Of course, being a PIE in Centrepoint, means we need to ensure that we take an individual person centred approach to Christmas because each young person is different. Donna highlights that this year “through a wonderful donor we are even more able to have a psychologically informed Christmas due to our personalised gift giving for young people. Whilst in the past gift donations have always been very gratefully received, being able to buy something that young people really want this year, rather than them all receiving the same donated items, will have a much bigger impact in making the young people feel at home”.

So starting our ‘tour’ of a ‘psychologically informed’ Centrepoint Christmas in one of our London services, Keighley Carlisle (Support & Housing Officer, Wandsworth) reports, “we decorate the service and we buy food for all the young people to make Christmas lunch in their kitchens. We also provide Christmas goodies like tins of Celebrations”:

Matt Carlisle (Operations Manager, South London) goes further noting “Christmas is a very important time in Centrepoint services. It is a season of meticulous preparation, where every effort is made to ensuring our spaces are not just services, but homes imbued with the festive spirit. This past week, we’ve been dedicated to transforming our spaces into welcoming havens of festivity, adorned with decorations, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for all who enter. In the spirit of giving, my staff teams in services have been shopping an array of treats, chocolates, crisps, drinks, cakes, and selection boxes, to make sure that all the things people associate with this time of year, are ready available to all young people in our care”.

He adds, “preparing the gift bags for our young people has been a delightful endeavour, despite the playful curiosity of some who eagerly attempt to sneak a peek. This innocent inquisitiveness is not just part of the festive fun; it is a heart-warming reminder that our young people recognise there are people who genuinely care for their well-being and happiness. At Centrepoint, we understand that Christmas can be a challenging time for many young people. Hence, alongside the festive preparations, it is equally crucial that we ensure the availability of support during this period. It is our responsibility and privilege to provide a safe and supportive psychologically informed environment, where every young person knows they are not alone and can access the help they need. I am proud to report that our services are more than just places of shelter; they are bustling communities of joy, warmth, and comfort. They feel like ‘home’, and rightfully so, for that is exactly what they are meant to be”. He concludes that “as we celebrate this festive season, let us remember the true essence of our mission — to create a space where every young person feels valued, cared for, and is part of the Centrepoint family”.


The importance of Christmas decorations (and Christmas food!) is also not lost in our Essex services within where, as noted by Marcus Johnson (Deputy Service Manager) they “kicked off the festivities with our yearly tree decorating plus hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows accompanied with mince pies and gingerbread men. We were also dancing and singing along to Christmas songs!” He continues “we are also hosting a Christmas party for all our young people with light refreshments and music” and whilst “most of our residents will be away on Christmas day, staff will make it a festive and seasonal time for those who are present”. Favour Anyin (Support & Housing Officer, Essex) has also sent over some great photographs of how the services have been decorated with young people as well as a recent ‘pre-Christmas’ meal they shared together:

Over in Camden, Josh Hancock (Deputy Service Manager) reports that they are “supporting 27 young people over the festive season with a variety of vouchers and gifts, and a meal at each of our three services. We will use the combined power of microwaves, air fryers, and ovens to put on a spread, which includes foul/ful, eggs and pitta, roasted Halal birds, and plenty of Brussel sprouts! We thank those working over the holidays, and express our appreciation to the teams for their ongoing support”. Olayinka Adenuga (Night Support Worker, Camden) adds that she and two other workers will be “cooking up a storm and organising some fun games at the service on the day for young people”.

Meanwhile, I think the award for the BIGGEST tree might have to go to our Barnet services (it was a squeeze to fit the height of it into the foyer area!). Dionne John-Baptiste (Service Manager, Barnet) reports, “We have started the festive celebrations with the arrival of our huge Christmas tree in reception, which was decorated and donated by Barrett Homes. Young people have also been given Advent calendars, some of whom have never had an advent calendar before and some report the tradition is new for them — however they are all enjoying a lovely treat of a daily chocolate”. She continues, “There have also been plenty of sweet treats on offer in the service, including mince pies and chocolates and staff have planned an ice skating trip at Winter Wonderland with a group of young people. Staff have also been wearing their Santa hats around the service, giving young people something to giggle and smile about as they go about their day!”

Although arguably our service in Ealing is also pitching for the biggest tree award (and possibly the best gingerbread house making)!

In West London, Cheryl Johnson (Service Manager, Hammersmith & Fulham) notes that in her service “staff and young people will cook a Christmas meal together. For some young people it will be the last Christmas in our service because they are waiting to move on to their own property. As a special keepsake, we will also be developing and framing Christmas photos for them”. She also notes a special thank you to the “corporate team for arranging the best group of volunteers that decorated the services, and thanks to the staff who undertook the remaining decorating, bringing festive cheer to the young people’s homes”. Tayibah Seedat (Deputy Service Manager, Hammersmith & Fulham) also reports that they asked young people what they wanted to do as a Christmas activity and “then they all had a chance to vote and they have decided on Puttshack. We are going as a service next Friday and it should be a lot of fun!”

South of the river in Greenwich, Rosemary Ote (Service Manager, Greenwich) reports that they are trying to make the service feel ‘homely’ as “Christmas is the season of joy, lights and merriment! We have been bringing Christmas to life in our PIE inspired hub building in the garden. The young parents and their babies took the lead in putting up the Christmas decorations”. She also reports that they will be “having their Christmas dinner in the service, [with the] young parents, supported by staff, cooking a mouth-watering roast Turkey with all the trimmings — roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables etc” and they are hoping to “unwrap the magic of Christmas” for their young people and their children.

Whilst over in another of our London services (Waltham Forest), Kieran Tailor (Support & Housing Officer) reports that, “We have been making the service feel festive! Last Saturday we put the tree up (some of our residents got involved with decorating the tree) and had some sweet treats and mince pies”, which I have to note look very tempting indeed!

Heading up North now to Barnsley and as Chris Denton (Operational Manager) reports, “We have taken our young people to the pantomime to see Cinderella (Oh no you haven’t… Oh yes we have!), had a Carol Service with the local Rockingham Brass Band, and young people are going bowling over the Christmas period”. Within the service, Chris and his brilliant team have decorated the project with the young people (see pictures below) and have thought carefully about how to support the individual young people over this period. For example, he notes “staff are working flexible shifts to meet support needs, different menus are available on Christmas day for young people from difficult cultures including cooked breakfasts and a Chinese takeaway over the Christmas period, provision of details of local religious services for young people, open lounge spaces for young people to relax and be together, young people in our floating support service having the supported accommodation contact details so they can ring for support if needed, and additional gifts for young people with children so their child has presents on Christmas day”.

Whilst over in our Bradford Services, Freda Dyson (Operational Manager, Bradford) reminds us that “at this time of year, we tend to think of Christmas as a time to spend with family celebrations, lights, trees, presents, and mountains of food. But every year we also consider that some of our young people do not have the family festivities that we often take for granted. They may be estranged or may have lost family members”. Consequently, she notes that we “understand that Christmas means something different to other people and may bring up different feelings. We know that whilst we may feel like we are sharing a celebration; the young people might not feel the same way. Therefore, we let them know that we understand that Christmas can be difficult, but that we are there for them and they are not alone. We reassure them that it is common to find things hard at this time of year [and create psychologically informed spaces to] listen to what they say and accept their feelings. We remain there for each and every young person in our services who needs us just as we do every year”.

Freda goes on to note that in the Bradford services they will still be “pulling out all the stops again this year, kicking off with a week of festivities and activities each day including a Christmas party for all young people across the pathway and Christmas dinner, party games and a Boxing Day buffet”. She is also quite the dab hand at decorating the services, leading by example in making the services Christmassy as the picture below highlights!

Finally, heading up to our most Northern located service in Sunderland, Rebecca Crosby (Operational Manager) also reflects “Christmas is a particularly hard and difficult time for our young people as they have the added stress of providing for their young children. We have seen our young parents’ struggle the most at this time of year as they attempt to juggle the basic needs of themselves and their children with the added social pressures of providing gifts for their children and family whilst struggling with the increased costs of living associated with winter”. As a consequence, she reports that “every year, staff aim to minimise the financial burden placed on our families and minimise the guilt that they tell us they feel by seeking sources of donations for presents, both for the children and parents. We work very closely with some fantastic charities in the area to ensure that this is achieved every year, and each year we are lucky that we are always met with appreciation and awe at the presents that are gifted”.

Rebecca continues that as per a PIE, they “focus heavily on creating a warm family environment for the children, especially at Christmas, and to our young parents this will often mean decorating their flats with the children, as they would have wanted when they were children. Given the financial constraints around this time of year, this is not always possible and so as a service we will step into support our families with donations of decorations [e.g. from the local Co-Op] that we have received and in some cases, the purchase of additional Christmas trees as some of our young people feel that a home is not a home without a tree at Christmas. Each year we have a day of decoration where all families in the service are invited to share a hot chocolate and decorate our communal space ready for Christmas as this is the space shared by all and allows them a chance to make it their own”.

In addition, she reports, “we also hold arts and crafts sessions, and a photoshoot session, near to Christmas to allow our families the chance to make personalised Christmas cards. This is something that is always greatly received by our families and provides a keepsake item that can be treasured for years”. Rebecca also highlights that “each year we know that not everyone has somewhere to go on Christmas day and do not have family to turn to. We ensure that staff put on a fantastic Christmas lunch for all who remain at the service (as well as an early Christmas dinner for those that are not!) This year staff will be tested like no other, as there will be 30 grumbling bellies looking for their fix of pigs in blankets and honey roast parsnips! During the day itself, staff and young people spend time in the communal room together, watching films and eating food just as others would at their family home”. Michelle Straughan (Support & Housing Officer, Sunderland) adds “on Christmas day we will be spending it in the communal room with Christmas films, music, games, and of course the aforementioned Christmas dinner! The young people have opted for chicken and pork so that is what we are having with Vienetta ice cream for pudding! There will lots of chocolates and treats too. It is going to be as near to a cosy day at home on Christmas day as we can make it”.

Phew, what a whistle stop tour around just some of our Centrepoint supported accommodation services to look at how they are making their Christmas festivities as psychologically informed as possible. The key thing that they all have in common is that they are creating ‘homes’ for the homeless young people they support. Something that at this time of year, do not we all deserve to be able to have, regardless of the difficulties and challenges we may be facing the rest of the year? As shown above, it is often not massive things that make this time of year something less difficult, more psychologically informed and even perhaps ‘special’ for those young people that find themselves living in a Centrepoint service. Rather, it is acknowledging that this time of year can be challenging for some young people and then trying to support them through this period, with time, space to talk and perhaps providing them with some of those little but important Christmas traditions (e.g. tree, decoration, advent calendars, gifts and food) that many of us take for granted within our own family homes at Christmas time.

Finally, it has been a busy year for not just our frontline teams in Centrepoint but also the PIE team, as well as our wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ support team(s), volunteers, fundraisers and partners, and I want to express my gratitude for all of those involved in working to #EndYouthHomelessness. I look forward to what 2024 brings next on our Centrepoint PIE journey, but in the meantime I would like to wish all the readers of this blog a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!…

*with thanks to Ed Tytherleigh (Director of Services), Donna Grieves (Project Manager: Support & Housing Services), Keighley Carlisle (Support & Housing Officer, Wandsworth), Matt Carlisle (Operational Manager, South London), Marcus Johnson (Deputy Service Manager, Essex), Dionne John-Baptiste (Service Manager, Barnet), Josh Hancock (Deputy Service Manager, Camden), Olayinka Adenuga (Night Support Worker, Camden), Cheryl Johnson (Service Manager, Hammersmith & Fulham), Tayibah Seedat (Deputy Service Manager, Hammersmith & Fulham), Rosemary Ote (Service Manager, Greenwich), Kieran Tailor (Support & Housing Officer, Waltham Forest), Chris Denton (Operational Manager, Barnsley), Freda Dyson (Operational Manager, Bradford), Rebecca Crosby (Operational Manager, Sunderland) and Michelle Straughan (Support & Housing Officer, Sunderland) for their written reflections on Christmas in their services and the wonderful festive photographs!



Dr Helen Miles

Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist & Head of Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) at Centrepoint @orange_madbird