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Social Justice

Comedian Mark Watson is planning a ‘Kitmas’ for kids in poverty

Their Kitmas drive encourages the public to donate pre-loved football shirts or cash to make sure every child gets a present this Christmas

As child poverty soars, Christmas is a worry for parents on low incomes across the UK. But comedian Mark Watson and his brother Paul, a journalist, are campaigning to make it a special one for disadvantaged children – with the gift of a Christmas football kit.

Through their Kitmas drive, pre-loved kits are being donated to go to grassroots community groups and kids who might not otherwise get a Christmas present this year. And through cash fundraising – their crowdfunder has nearly hit its £3,000 target in a matter of days – new kits are being bought too. 

“I always remember how exciting it was to get a football shirt for Christmas as a kid,” Paul told The Big Issue. “This year is going to be really hard for a lot of families. If we can give that to a few children who wouldn’t get anything otherwise then that’s amazing.”

Donating football kits to deprived areas is not a new venture for Paul, who discovered the power of football in bringing communities together when he worked as a coach on a remote Pacific island (he wrote about his experience in book Up Pohnpei). Since then, he has worked with refugee organisations to send kit everywhere from Zanzibar to Somalia and Tibet.

“The pandemic made me think differently about what I do and how,” he said. “I realised I’ve been very global and might have neglected some of the need under my own nose. Like a lot of people, Covid-19 has narrowed my world, but in some positive ways. It has given people a clearer view of the community around them.

The Kitmas campaign asks that child-sized shirts be in good condition and simply be something a kid would love to wear. Paul has already been buying brand new kits with the donated money – resulting in a call about fraud from his bank – and is making sure every football shirt is something worth getting excited about.

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“Price is playing a big part in what kits we’re getting for children since some are a lot cheaper than others,” he said. “The ideal ones are from clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid since there aren’t many kids in the UK who wouldn’t want that. Whereas if you sent a Liverpool kit to an Everton fan, they’d probably rather burn it.”

Paul has been in touch with community groups in Stroud, Gloucestershire, where he lives, as well as Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and Newcastle. He is quarantining second-hand kits in plastic boxes for a few days before sending them out to eliminate the risk of spreading Covid-19.

 “The response has been amazing already, there’s a great community of people out there,” Paul said. “People see the bad of Twitter but social media brings out so many amazing things.

“What’s nice is that it’s all individual people who have a fiver to donate or one kit lying around. It’s not coming from some big corporation, it’s really personal. Just normal people who remember what it was like to get a kit as a kid and want to do something nice for others.”

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While the brothers will make sure kits are sent out in time for Christmas, they will keep accepting donations into the new year. “There will still be a need for nice things for kids in January,” Paul said. “It would be great to do this year-round.”

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