Christmas cheer and charity

UNISON members are helping workplaces, their families and communities to warm up for the festive season

Children attending UNISON's Christmas cinema screening in Inverclyde stand outside the cinema holding placards saying 'we demand popcorn'

UNISON members have spent the last year working for the public. In hospitals, schools, local government and more, they’ve been making a big contribution to their communities. But now it’s Christmas – and time for some Yo-Ho-Ho.

Members all over the country have been bringing festive cheer to their workplaces, offering colleagues an opportunity to let their hair down in the run-up to Christmas, and showing the public another side to the union.

And incidentally, bringing some cheer can also attract new recruits.

In Scotland, members of the Inverclyde Local Authority Branch and their families have been treated to a free Christmas cinema outing, courtesy of the branch.

It’s the second year that the event has been organised, with around 800 people attending their very own Yuletide screenings.

“When I started working with the branch last year we were looking for activities to bring the membership together,” says UNISON organiser Joe Pearce. “So I got in touch with the local independent cinema and hired two screens for a Christmas presentation of Paddington Bear.

“We were overwhelmed by the demand. So this year we expanded to a full weekend, with Good Dinosaur for the family, and Christmas with the Coopers for grown-ups.”

UNISON stewards decorated the cinema with tinsel and UNISON balloons, and were on hand in the foyer to greet guests. And the feature programme was preceded by short videos about the union’s activities.

The cinema itself provided popcorn and drinks for the children, with anything left over being given to the local food bank.

a box of popcorn

Popcorn at the cinema

“This kind of family day used to be something that employers might do. But with austerity, such things have generally gone by the wayside,” says Joe. “Unions are having to fill the void a wee bit.

“It was really exciting, with a nice festive atmosphere, especially for the kids. And its cost just £2/3 per head – that’s great value to the branch, and wonderful for the members.”

Other Christmas intiatives have included:

Good Gifts

From the London Metropolitan University Branch, Rudi Affolter is encouraging fellow members to forget about buying conventional – and often unwanted – presents, and instead to use the charity Good Gifts when doing their Christmas shopping.

Good Gifts allows people to send essential items to those in need, at home or abroad. You then send a card to your loved ones, telling them what you have done on their behalf.

“It’s so important to buy a Christmas meal for someone in need, or a present for a child living in poverty, who may not otherwise receive one,” says Rudi. “And your money buys exactly what the website says it does.”

Christmas Fayre

The Northamptonshire Police Branch held two Christmas Fayres this year, one at the force’s headquarters, the other at Kettering Police Station.

“We decided to run the first fayre in 2012 following the announcement of mass redundancies,” says branch membership and learning officer Jenny Brown. “We felt members needed something nice to look forward to. It was very well received, attended by members, non-members and police officers.

“Since then it has become something of a tradition. And it gives the branch a chance to hold a stall, which we normally theme around UNISON’s charity There for You and other benefits of membership.”

Carols for charity

Staff at UNISON Centre in London extended some Christmas cheer to the community around the union’s national office.

UNISON staff singing carols

UNISON staff at a charity carol singing

The UNISON Workplace Choir took part in a day of charity carol singing, organised by a local market. Their festive efforts raised money for UNISON president Wendy Nichol’s charity, The Gambia Bijilo School Project, which provides essential equipment and improved amenities for the West African school.

A Belgian Christmas

The Sheffield Community Health Branch organised a Christmas trip to Ostend for its members and their partners – a decade-long tradition that branch secretary and former UNISON president Sue Highton cheerfully describes as “shop till you drop – and drink as much as you like.”

Though it’s not subsidised, the outing in the first weekend of December is popular with members and stewards alike.

“Our members are scattered all over Sheffield, so this is a nice bonding event,” says Sue. “Many of them are meeting each other for the first time, and meeting stewards for the first time, especially if they’ve never had to call on the union for assistance.

“They get to hear about what UNISON is doing, what we’re campaigning for, to share information and network. So it’s a good organising and recruiting tool.

“Plus this is the weekend when the Belgians actually celebrate their Christmas, so it’s really festive, with a Christmas market and ice-skating. It’s a great way for our members to start their Christmas.”