Survivors of slavery to enjoy Christmas dinner in safety this year

Survivors of slavery living in a Sheffield safe house, will enjoy a Christmas dinner with a difference this year, thanks to a City Hearts volunteer.

Kay Wood, 49, who works at the Sheffield based anti-slavery charity City Hearts, also volunteers her time for the organisation at weekends, when she hosts cooking classes and dinner parties for people living in the charity’s safe houses.

City Hearts supports people rescued from exploitation and trafficking across the UK, and has so far helped more than 3,500 men, women and children affected by modern slavery.

Mum of two Kay, grew up in Durban, South Africa, and saw first-hand the hardships people could face as a result of poverty. 

“I saw a lot of physical and sexual violence growing up,” she said.

“My desire to help people was sparked at a young age, but I didn’t know exactly how I could help until later in my life.”

Kay moved to the UK with her husband 25 years ago and joined the City Hearts team after hearing about the difference the charity made to trafficked people’s lives.

“I wanted to give something to help others, and in our family, food is how we show love!”  

Knowing that food can bring people together, Kay volunteered to host fortnightly cooking classes for survivors of trafficking living in the safe houses. 

Last year she also hosted a successful Christmas dinner for the female safe house, and now plans to spend this Christmas day cooking for the men.

“Cooking last year for the women was really good,” she said. “Especially for the clients that don’t have any family. One woman said it was the best Christmas she had ever had. I tried to incorporate some of their traditional foods or traditions, so I did a turkey, and an Ethiopian and Indian dish. It was a really happy occasion.”

Seeing how much it meant to the women, Kay is determined to make Christmas dinner for the male safe house, even if it means making another dinner for her own family when she gets home!

“My children are older now, so they are fine with it,” Kay added. “They know it is something that I’m really passionate about.”

By hosting regular cooking sessions throughout the year, Kay has seen the positive effect that eating together can have on survivors supported by City Hearts.

“Cooking brings an element of fun and takes their minds off their trauma for a few hours,” she said.

“Often when I meet the people who are new to our service, they are understandably very hesitant. But once the sounds and smells come out of the kitchen, someone always asks if I need help. It’s important to just be together, it’s not just how the food turns out, it’s talking, it’s laughing, its joking, it’s learning from each other too because every dish is from a different county.”

People living in the safe houses have escaped or been rescued from modern slavery situations, and will have a lot of trauma. Kay hopes that by making Christmas Day special for them, she can bring a bit of normality back to their lives.

“It’s going to be a special occasion,” she said. “A proper dinner party. I’m going to make sure they have a nice table cloth, and lay the table out nicely. They miss their friends and their old lives. I can help bring a bit of that excitement back.”