Photo: Frontline staff donate and wrap presents for the Tope Project at our Christmas celebrations
The Tope Project helps combat loneliness for care leavers at Christmas and throughout the year, by putting on free events for care-experienced young people. At the age of 17, Tobi left the care system in which she had spent almost her entire life. Today she lives independently, studying television, new broadcasting media and dance at Kingston University. We caught up with Tobi to find out why she spent last Christmas with the Tope Project and why she will be returning this year. Read part one of our conversation below then read part two here.
How did you first get involved with the Tope Project?
Last year, I was feeling depressed and low, and I didn’t have anywhere to spend my Christmas. I was also approaching my final year of university, so I was thinking about what to do afterwards. Christmas felt like a tipping point of where I’m going to go next in my life. My personal adviser at the time recommended the Tope project to me.
What was your experience of Christmas with the Tope Project?
It was amazing. I was quite nervous on the day and I didn’t know what to expect, but when I got there it was like I knew everyone already. Everyone was so kind, open and willing to help. I’m a wheelchair user and I believe I was the first person to go to the Tope Project with a disability. It was interesting for me to interact with people and it was good for them too because I don’t think they’ve actually met a young person who’s leaving care who’s so open to making friends.
The first thing I did was go on the bouncy castle, and I played with the children of some of the young people who were there. I got involved in some activities upstairs, which was really cool. The whole building was wheelchair accessible, so it was nice to get around freely. Around dinner time – which was my favourite part – we called Frontline to say thank you for the presents you had donated, and we took a few minutes to remember Tope and the fact that we’re all in that same situation. All of our stories are very similar and our pain is very similar. It was really nice. Honestly, I will probably keep doing the same thing for Christmas until I have my own children.
Apart from the bouncy castle, what did you do in the morning?
We played party games. We were all very competitive and it was lots of fun. We did some art, drawing pictures. Some people drew positive things, and some people made art which reflected their pain. We played foosball, which I loved.
Were a lot of people nervous? Did it take people a while to get into the swing of things?
Definitely. I think most of us, as young adults leaving care, are quite embarrassed to share our problems. But as soon as we found out that all of us are in the same situation, the nerves just went away. And obviously our experiences of care weren’t the main topic of conversation, but the more we laughed and joked with each other, the more we asked questions and were open with each other.
What would you say to someone not sure whether to attend the Tope Project?
I would say always try something once, because you may love it and if you don’t try it you will never know. You’ll meet new people that will be just like you. If you’re quiet, there will be someone else who is quiet. If you are an outgoing person, there will be someone else who is outgoing, and so on. Give it a go, because you are probably going to love it.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Christmas with the Tope Project?
Seeing everyone’s faces, the presents, the food – the food and drink are the best – and just enjoying the company.