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Social Justice

Kitmas campaign will give football shirts to thousands of children in poverty this Christmas

As low-income families across the UK face a difficult festive season, Kitmas is making sure kids have something to open on Christmas day.

A drive to give football shirts to disadvantaged children this Christmas has raised nearly £20,000.

Kitmas, an initiative thought up by football coach and activist Paul Watson and now in its second year, collects pre-loved shirts to distribute through grassroots community groups across the UK.

With nearly two weeks left to go, the fundraiser has more than doubled last year’s success, when around 1,000 shirts were sent out via 16 organisations to ensure children in low-income households had something to open on Christmas day. It inspired a similar campaign to kick off in Canada this festive season.

Watson and wife Lizzie, in Stroud, are finding time around work and caring for their children to collect, buy, pack up and distribute the increasingly expensive shirts around the country after another hard year for disadvantaged young people.

“We heard a lot of times that kids were over the moon to have a shirt and for some it made them feel more able to play football with friends and at school, which is really important,” Watson told The Big Issue.

“In a way the greatest unexpected challenge is that we didn’t expect things to go so big. We ended up with shirts stacked all over our house in piles for different centres. We’ve learned from last year’s chaos and have a much better idea what to expect this time around.

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He added: “We loved doing it last year and wanted to make sure the centres we worked with were able to provide shirts again as some kids were already looking forward to that.”

The campaign – inspired by Watson’s involvement with charitable football projects overseas – has been backed by high-profile figures and pundits including comedian Mark Watson, Paul’s brother, and Gary Lineker.

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“I always remember how exciting it was to get a football shirt for Christmas as a kid,” Watson told The Big Issue when the campaign launched. “If we can give that to a few children who wouldn’t get anything otherwise then that’s amazing.” 

Kitmas both collects shirts and uses cash donations to purchase new kits to send out to children in poverty. The shirts collected and bought are checked for quality and deliberately selected to ensure they will be something a child can feel excited about wearing – and won’t be the kit of their club’s local rival.

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That means focusing on so-called neutral clubs, like Barcelona or Real Madrid, which will have mass appeal for the UK’s young football enthusiasts.

“We’re pretty strict about the kids we collect because they need to be presents for kids so they must be pristine, as new,” Watson said.

“We don’t want children to feel they’re getting cast-offs, so we send anything that doesn’t quite make that standard to other charitable projects, some in Africa, where they will be loved.

“We’ve become pretty good at finding the most cost effective way to spend the money we receive to ensure the most children get shirts, but it is a bit of a challenge making sure we get the right sizes and clubs that won’t offend!”

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The activists – who have their sights set on becoming a registered charity – are also encouraging UK football clubs to set up their own Kitmas campaigns to give local disadvantaged children the gift of a shirt for Christmas.

You can donate to Kitmas and find out where to send football shirts here.

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