‘Bringing both sides of the community together’

In the first of a series of how Unite is helping members and families this Christmas we meet Albert Hewitt, who together with an indefatigable team of Unite volunteers, has been making a real difference in Northern Ireland

Reading time: 6 min

It is true to say that this Christmas certainly won’t be like any other – but for all the wrong reasons.

We see the adverts every day. While the shiny families enjoy idealised Christmas Days, and the perfect children open heaps of presents – their faces aglow with delight, and the pre-Black Friday offers (can you believe that there’s now a whole month of consumer-obsessed offers?) attempt to entice even the most clam-like of purses – the majority of us stare at the TV set or PC or tablet or mobile device agog – many worrying about how they’ll put food on the Christmas table – or any other table for that matter – let alone afford to buy the kind of gifts our children have come to expect.

Covid is a cruel virus scarring us mentally as well as physically – raising anxiety, fears. Keeping families apart, making those happily living alone, lonely. But outside of the unreal TV-land version of Christmas, there are some truly incredible Unite members among us who are going the whole hog to give families food for their table and gifts for children.

Christmas is a time of magic and Unite has just launched a Christmas appeal to help families finding it tough right now.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner is writing to Unite branches to support the appeal. “I have asked that our industrial and retired members’ branches link-up with our Community branches to support their local food banks and other grass-roots charities,” Turner explains.

“Because of the Covid crisis thousands of our members have lost their jobs and many are now relying on a completely inadequate social security system. Unite is determined to do all it can to help.”

Helping families since the pandemic first came to these shores in March, is Northern Ireland’s Unite in the Community Co-ordinator, Albert Hewitt – determined to help bring some seasonal spirit to local families.

Hewitt told UNITElive, “We’re working in partnership with other organisations and mostly focusing on those who have lost their jobs since the outbreak began. We’ve set up food collection points for members to leave food donations, we’ve been working with food banks, making up and delivering food hampers.”

‘Food warriors’

Hewitt and his relentless team of ‘Food Warriors’ know no bounds. On the streets of Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Enniskillen, Newry, Ballymena, they go wherever they’re needed. We’ve given out literally thousands of food hampers – too many to count,” he says.

But it’s not just about food. The team have been keeping in touch with senior citizens and helping families. Manufacturing members have been making PPE and Hewitt and the team have been out to care homes delivering face masks, plastic aprons and other equipment to where it was needed.

“We’ve been consistently working with members that have lost their jobs, senior citizens, the working poor and any members that need help, since March. We’re here to help.”

Unite members throughout Northern Ireland, both industrial, community and retired have been donating and helping to raise funds. Together with industrial regional officers they’ve been giving advice to members through zoom meetings.

But no one can forget that lockdown or not, Christmas is just around the corner. And that’s where Hewitt’s latest campaigns come in – #Christmas Appeal 2020 with Sponsor a child for Christmas and Food Bank Donations.

He’s looking for both donations and volunteers to help out. And he’s also very pleased that Unite is now running a national Unite Christmas Appeal to help out members and families finding life tough right now.

As we said earlier, Unite assistant secretary Steve Turner launched the Unite Christmas Appeal recently.

“Unite is determined to do all it can to help,” said Turner. “Solidarity is about looking after one another, which is why as a union we are not prepared to sit back while families struggle to feed their families or buy Christmas toys for their kids.

“Please ask your branch to link-up with our Unite Community branches to support your local food banks and other grass-roots charities.

“Many of our branches already support their local food banks, which is fantastic. But if your’s doesn’t, please link up with Unite Community branches and make a real difference this Christmas.

‘Massive increase in food bank demand’

Our Community members who regularly volunteer in food banks have told us that there has been a massive increase in demand since Covid.

“Unite knows that food banks and charity are not the solution to the hunger children face. As a union we will continue to put pressure on the government to address the issues that cause poverty. Higher wages and a fairer social security system must be part of the way forward.

“Our union’s branches and amazing members can make a real difference to so many this winter. And you could be a part of that,” he added.

In a part of the UK where pockets of division can still linger, Unite’s work in Northern Ireland is helping way beyond just giving out food boxes or calling a lonely pensioner. “We’re bringing both sides of the community together,” says Albert.

“It’s about coming together as a community, caring for each other and helping out wherever we can,” he adds. And if that’s not the true spirit of both Unite and Christmas – I don’t know what is.


If you live in Northern Ireland and want to help Albert and the Community team contact [email protected] for details of your nearest branch. And if you want to donate or volunteer please contact [email protected] – if you want to ‘sponsor a child’ contact [email protected]

And if you live elsewhere to help with the union-wide Unite Christmas Appeal get in touch with Unite Community at [email protected] for details of your nearest branch.

By Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite

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