While you’re sitting by the tree enjoying your turkey this Christmas, it can be easy to forget that across Greater Manchester, thousands of people are treating it as just another day.
From charity workers to midwives, many kindhearted individuals are sacrificing their special day to keep the county going.
Today, the Manchester Evening News is celebrating these people as our Christmas Heroes.
As we share their stories, it’s important to remember that they make up just a small percentage of those up and down the country who have put the festivities on hold so they can help others at the end of a very trying year.
Tania, a volunteer at Samaritans’ Oxford Street office, says that the prospect of volunteering at Christmas was one of the reasons she signed up in the first place.
“Christmas has never really meant that much to me and I really wanted to be able to volunteer somewhere,” she explained.
“What I’ve learnt being a Samaritan is that everyone needs to be listened to – everyone needs to be heard – and how powerful it can be when a complete stranger just says ‘I hear you, and you’re doing the best you can’”.
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While Tania will be mostly answering emails from often desperate members of the public who need help over Christmas, Andy Smith will be answering the phone.
“For me being here is in part about giving, to give back to people,” the volunteer told the M.E.N.
“People need somebody to talk to, and I’m happy to listen and try and give them a sense of warmth for that short period of time we’re on the call with them.”
“While most of the country enjoys the festivities of Christmas Day, it’s important that we are on hand in case of an emergency,” says Louis Edmonds, an emergency medical technician for North West Ambulance Service.
He’s working today until 6pm, responding to 999 calls with his paramedic colleague.
“We’ll be caring for a variety of patients who may be in need of emergency care,” Louis said.
“We often see an increase of vulnerability and people suffering from a mental health crisis over Christmas.”
The care home workers
Tracey, Lisa and Sally are welfare staff at Israel Sieff Court care home in northern Manchester.
Their jobs mean that they won’t be seeing their families over Christmas, just like their residents who have had to deal with being isolated from their loved ones for most of the year.
“We’ll be doing lots of different activities just to make it fun for them, because obviously at the moment everyone is quite depressed with not seeing their families, so we’re going to try and make it as happy as possible,” Sally Warmisham told us.
“We exchange presents with them, it’s really good morale in there,” Tracey added.
“Everybody’s happy and outgoing – you’ll find us singing and dancing with the residents – with most of them enjoying a tipple of brandy at the same time!”
The homeless charity volunteers
The Wellspring in Stockport is one of many charities across the region that will be handing out food and gifts to the homeless on Christmas Day.
Jules Price, who will be cooking hot meals and putting together support packages for disadvantaged people, says she doesn’t mind working over the festive period to help people.
“Christmas is a time for giving and helping each other – even more than throughout the year – so I think it’s good to come down here and give some of our time to help people,” she said.
“It’s good to give something back to our community.
“The main thing I get from volunteering is when you take a hot meal to the door and you just spend a couple of minutes chatting to the person out there – sometimes they just want a hot meal and a warm chat, and someone to talk to.”
Steven meanwhile, will be handing out presents in the charity’s grotto on Christmas Day.
He says that volunteering is very personal to him as he’s been homeless in the past, and relied on the Wellspring’s services.
“My family and children understand the importance of why dad does it, and my mum understands why her son does this, because she’s been through the dark times with me before I turned my life around in 2009,” he explained.
“It’s that sense of wellbeing, what it means to me on a personal level, that I’m able to do what people did for me when I was homeless at Christmas.”
The supermarket delivery driver
Making sure that everyone gets their turkeys and trimmings on time is an army of supermarket delivery drivers, such as Dianne Archer, who works at Asda.
The home shopping manager has worked at the supermarket’s Trafford Park site for almost 20 years, and says the festive spirit means she doesn’t mind working over the Christmas period.
“Through this pandemic, our job has been really important, because people can’t get out of the house,” she told us.
“This year we’ve been the only people some people have seen, so when we go to their doors, we stand there and have a conversation – we ask if they are alright and everything.
“They like it as sometimes we are the only people they ever see.”
The Childline callers
The pandemic has meant that many children have been feeling isolated, and have been unable to access their usual support networks, which means that the NSPCC’s Childline service has been more important than ever.
Practice Manager Cat Woodhouse says that Christmas Day is just another day for the charity, taking calls and web chats from young people at risk of harm.
“All children deserve to be happy and have the Christmas they want,” she said, at their Salford office.
Fern Schofield, another manager at the children’s charity, is also working over the festive period.
“I feel incredibly passionate about dedicating my time here,” she explained.
“Everything we do protects children today and prevents abuse tomorrow.
“That’s why we’re here and that’s what drives all of our work.”
Hannah Murray is one of many staff at the NHS’s Stepping Hill Hospital on Christmas Day this year.
The radiographer is in charge of providing emergency CT scans for A&E patients or any other patients across all wards of the Stockport hospital.
Her team scans patients who come in after falls, or traumas, or have been in the ICU and need scans over the festive period.
“There’s currently no visitors allowed in the hospital so we could be the only people patients see on Christmas Day,” she said.
“So it’s really important that although we don’t see them very long as radiographers, that we make them feel comfortable, cared for, and not lonely or anything – so that’s what we’re here for.”
Another NHS worker dedicating their time to keep vital health services running over Christmas is Dr Shoneen Abbas, a consultant in critical care at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.
Based at the Oxford Road campus, she volunteered to work on Christmas Day so her colleagues could have a well deserved break with their families.
“This year, more than ever, we’ve had an exceptional and hard-working year where colleagues have really come together and shone in every aspect of care they have delivered,” she said.
“They are all NHS heroes and I want to thank each and every one of them for providing the support they do to each other and the high quality care that we deliver to the patients.”
Jonathon Elsden is a police dog handler at Greater Manchester Police.
“My key role as a dog handler is to act as support for divisional resources in operational policing, but it’s also to be a proactive resource to deter and disrupt serious organised crime,” he said.
He says that the main challenge this year has been the frustration from members of the public, who want to meet family and friends and haven’t been able to.
PC Elsden will be working on Christmas Day, before getting to go home to his family and celebrate in the evening.
The shop owner
While most supermarkets will be closed on Christmas Day, many shopkeepers are keeping their local stores open so people can grab any essentials they might need.
Fresh Save Fruit and Veg in Didsbury Village is one of those shops, but owner Mohammed Shafiq says that Christmas is a ‘wonderful’ time of the year.
“We look forward to Christmas every year,” he told the M.E.N.
In the leadup to the day itself, the shop gets much-needed extra business from additional lines – “the Christmas trees, and all the Christmas flowers and everything,” Mohammed said.
“It’s the season of goodwill – we help our customers pick Christmas trees and deliver them as well inside people’s homes.
“We work seven days a week from 7am to 7pm, and over the Christmas period it gets even harder for us as we have to work even longer hours after we close, delivering the trees, so sometimes it’s 10pm before we finish.”
The dogs’ home staff
“Dogs do not realise it’s Christmas – that’s the thing – so we try here to make it feel like Christmas as much as possible,” says Colin Balance, a Home Liaison Officer at Manchester and Cheshire Dogs’ Home.
Colin’s Christmas morning involves cleaning, feeding, and exercising the dozens of dogs who live at the charity’s kennels in Harpurhey.
He starts at 8:30 in the morning, and prepares a proper Christmas dinner for the pups – including turkey, roast potatoes, and vegetables.
And that’s not all: “The dogs can unwrap their own presents if they can, or if not, they’ll have new toys, new beds, in their kennels, all supplied by the staff or members of the public.”