It’s estimated that Brits spend over £19 billion on presents during the festive season each year, and feast on 308 million slices of turkey. But not everyone thinks of December as a season of indulgence and happiness. That’s where Basket Brigade come in. Each year, with the help of a team of volunteers and the support from local businesses, they reward individuals and families in need with an extra dose of love, in the form of a present from their community…
“Someone in your community has nominated you for a bit of extra love this Festive Season. Please look after yourself so that you can do this for someone else some day. Lots of love.” This is the message you are greeted with upon opening up the luxury hamper delivered to your door by Basket Brigade. Tear open the box and inside you’ll find gifts, toys, festive food treats and basic items, such as tea, coffee and custard, all personally hand-picked for your family by local volunteers. All because your community believe you deserve it.
Seventeen years ago, Laila Risdon and her team from Indio Brave – a social enterprise started in 1996 – attended Tony Robbins’ renowned Fire Walk workshop, where they learned about the global phenomena that is Basket Brigade. Started by the philanthropist and life coach Robbins himself, the scheme stemmed from the notion that anybody can change their life, and someone else's, just by giving. “You never know what the act of giving does, because there’s knock-on effects,” says Laila. “We appreciate that everybody needs a little bit of help, and this scheme is about being able to give because, perhaps someday, it will come back around.” Now operating in more than 400 cities and nineteen countries, the Nottingham branch has developed its own personality since their first Basket Brigade day fifteen years ago, moving beyond being a specially-selected care package of food gifted to those in need.
The premise is simple. Members of the public can visit Nottingham Basket Brigade’s website and nominate a member of the community they believe is deserving of a hamper this festive season. No matter the reason – whether they’ve recently become widowed, lost their job or just spend all their time giving to others – if someone believes they are in need of extra love, Basket Brigade will do all they can to honour that.
All year round, they collect small presents and accept donations to their basket fund. Mince pies, Christmas gift sets, toys, chocolates – whatever people are willing to provide. “This year we’re particularly short of cake,” says Laila. “Our scheme is run by 100% volunteers and there is no admin finance, so we are entirely dependent on donations. This year, the Girls’ Brigade are supporting us and Boots dropped off a pallet-sized stack of donations, which is wonderful. KB packaging have provided us with all the wonderful hampers too.” Anyone can donate to their fund via their website, or bring along donations to the Iona School in Sneinton on Saturday 14 December, where you can volunteer to become one of Santa’s little helpers, and compile and deliver the baskets.
The day starts at 7am, when Laila and the team unpack all the donations received and prepare the boxes for packing. When the volunteers arrive, that’s when the fun really starts: “You’ll receive a piece of paper with some information about the family you are packing for – so it might be a single mum with three boys aged two, six and eight – and then you’re sent off around the hall to create a wonderful gift for them based on this brief. It’s great fun as it’s almost like Aladdin’s cave, and you feel very connected to the box of goodies you’ve made.” Once you’ve wrapped it all up you can pass it along to someone else to deliver, or you can go and surprise the recipient yourself.
No matter the reason, if someone believes they are in need of extra love, Basket Brigade will do all they can to honour that
It’s thanks to the continued support of Nottinghamshire Community Foundation that Laila and the Indigo Brave Foundation have been able to run Basket Brigade for well over a decade now, and it’s become a staple of their year. “To be honest, my kids wouldn’t think of Christmas without Basket Brigade. There’s usually about fifty plus volunteers on the day and it’s a wonderful atmosphere. People come back year after year – it’s so connected to the people now.”
But it’s not about the warm feeling it gives the volunteers – it’s about the gift of love and hope that it provides to the recipients of the presents. Over the years, the nominations have been wide-ranging, from young carers to parents with disabled children. “My favourite story from last year was a man who had recently lost his wife and was left with four children. The house was dark – there were no decorations up or anything. We knocked on the door and could see the kids twitching the curtains to see who it was.
“He came to the door and when we passed it to him his eyes just welled up. The kids were jumping up and down as they could see the parcels, so he let them come through and one of the kids said, ‘We weren’t going to do Christmas this year because my mummy has gone to heaven and my daddy’s very sad.’ The man turned to the kids and said ‘I think we can do it now guys.’”
By adding a few extra items to your weekly shop, or picking up a cuddly toy you see on offer in your local discount store, you can help brighten the festive season for someone in need, and potentially change their life. It really is as simple as that. “There was an old lady who lived on her own who thought she’d won an award when we turned up. We were so moved we went along with it – she did an acceptance speech which was amazing! There was also a single mum with a five-year-old who turned around and said ‘I’ve never seen a Christmas fairy before!’” says Laila. “It’s about so much more than what’s in the box, you know. There’s a real feeling of having been seen by their community, and appreciated. It’s a gift of hope and love.”
This year’s Basket Brigade Day takes place on Saturday 14 December at the Iona School in Sneinton. To volunteer or donate items, please visit their website or Facebook page.