Many neighbourhoods around the world have a tradition of Father Christmas visiting their streets. Here in the UK on a cold winter evening as the darkness sets, the quiet street will be pierced by the sound of very merry Christmas tunes, followed by the lights of a trailer converted into a sleigh. Riding the sleigh is Father Christmas beaming a smile and shouting ‘Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!’, accompanied by crowds of dressed up volunteers walking alongside ringing bells, shaking tins to raise money for local charities and handing out sweet treats. In recent years the whole event is filmed, live streamed and photographed on mobile phones followed by a surge of people sharing the joyful experience on social media and sending images to friends and family. It’s a signal that the spirit of Christmas is well and truly alive on your street and in your community.
For many years, none of the local community groups who have a sleigh venture down onto the streets of Firs and Bromford. Back in 2016, a few of us were chatting about our plans for Christmas, when Ria said ‘how amazing would it be if we could have a sleigh visit our streets’. This sparked us all reminiscing about our memories of Santa arriving down our streets, and talking frustratingly about why our community misses out. We left that conversation with a determination to find a way of making it happen. After contacting groups we were left disappointed that there wasn’t a desire to help us, but that didn’t stop us! We began to think about how we could do this for ourselves.
A week later a few of us attended an event organised by a local guy, Tom Wheatley, who lights up his house every year for Christmas. He was hosting the annual light switch on and sat in the corner of the event was a sleigh. A conversation began with Tom, and he said he built the sleigh to take around the streets but never had enough support to do it in his community. Well that all changed. Within a week a route was designed, dates set, a Santa (and Mrs Claus) recruited, consumes sourced, helpers found, posters made and distributed, and the Firs and Bromford sleigh run was born!
On a cold Wednesday evening, about 5pm, we gathered with excitement outside Tom’s house. Not knowing what to expect or what response we were going to receive we had a determination to have fun. As we set-out we were immediately blown away. People appeared on their drives and balconies, curtains opened in bedroom windows. Young and old came out with huge beaming smiles. Some street corners began to see crowds gathering. It was magical! It was emotional! It was exactly what we had hoped for and more!
5 years later we’ve extended it, done it twice during a pandemic, and now the sleigh run is more popular than ever and has become one of our annual traditions. People of all ages make it happen, and in particular young people have become a huge part of the team. This year the story grew further when it looked like maybe the sleigh run wasn’t going to be possible. We had a problem that needed a welder! With short notice we had to cancel that evenings run with a lot of disappointment and sadness. Calls to welding companies was met with ‘sorry not possible for a couple of weeks!’. An urgent shout out went into the community ‘who can save Santa’s sleigh?’. A local guy stepped up within hours and went down that weekend to fix it. The sleigh was saved!
But we would now need to do it all in 1 night! A whole bunch of people spent 4 hours to walk the whole estate! With refreshments and home made sausage rolls at half way. Absolute legends one and all. This year was made even more special when on the day of the run a few of us where talking about how much Birmingham Children’s Hospital had saved the lives of children in our community over the past year. We wanted to say thank you, and we said ‘why don’t we donate this years sleigh money to them’. So we did and £230 was raised.
A week later someone who lives in a neighbouring community made a really interesting comment. He said ‘yes we might have a sleigh come to our street, but we don’t have THIS! We don’t have this community feeling and ownership! It is amazing!’. Tim Evans (spoiler alert he was our Santa!) said this is ‘doing what institutions, fixers and helpers can’t – joy, compassion and connections.’.
Our sleigh run is neighbours wanting to bring joy and happiness to each other. It is a story of people coming together through passion, commitment, and determination, and connecting this with people’s skills and gifts. It’s about paying attention to what is present, making the invisible visible, believing that your community has the assets required to make something happen, and giving people that chance to show up! This is the kind of community we live in! This is US! This could be YOU!