Crystal Palace FC stars Mamadou Sakho and Christian Benteke took time out of a busy festive schedule to spread some Christmas cheer at the Crisis Skylight Centre for homeless people in Croydon.
Sakho and Benteke helped to decorate the Centre’s Art Room for the Members’ Christmas Party, and also spent time having a tour of the centre, and meeting and speaking with the centre’s members and volunteers.
Crisis Skylight Croydon has been open for three years, and helps people who are currently homeless or have been homeless in recent years in Croydon and the surrounding boroughs. The Centre offers advice, support and training for essential life and employability skills to its members.
Workers at Crisis Croydon help provide guidance on members’ housing situations, finances and provide access to benefits, and the Centre also offers training courses in art, cooking, woodwork and various other practical skills. The centre also runs a wellbeing project to help improve people’s self-esteem and to give them access to local mental health support.
Palace’s Mamadou Sakho has his own foundation, and is currently building an orphanage in Africa. Speaking at the Centre, he said: “I think it is great that this centre takes care of people by giving them a place to take a shower, and a place that gives them hope. The people here deserve this kind of day, and we want to give them a smile, give them power and show them that this world needs them.
“It’s important to give back. That isn’t only about money, it’s also about time, about sharing experiences with people, and speaking with them to give them power to come back tomorrow with more motivation. My charity is in Africa, in France and in Liverpool, and I took a few videos as a few rooms here are an inspiration for me.”
Christian Benteke echoed the sentiments of Sakho, saying: “We’ve been visiting this wonderful centre in Croydon where homeless people can come and get a shower, a good hot breakfast and think about something more positive in their lives. Footballers earn good money, what you do with that money is the most important thing. If you can change people’s life by just five percent or ten percent, then it’s a massive extra for them. I remember how grateful I am today and how hard it is for other people.”
Approximately 1,100 people slept rough in the five south London boroughs that meet at Crystal Palace (Croydon, Southwark, Lewisham, Lambeth and Bromley) last year, and more than 600 of those people visited the Croydon Crisis Centre in 2018. This number is a significant rise on the 400 who visited the centre last year.
Among the members that Benteke and Sakho met was a Crystal Palace fan who still attended home games at Selhurst Park despite living in a tent while homeless last year. While he preferred not to be named, the fan spoke of how attending Selhurst Park was an escape and an inspiration for him: “I got into my situation May of last year, but two months before I’d bought a season ticket, so the whole time I was homeless I was going to Selhurst Park.
"Regardless of my situation, I’m true Palace, and it helped me come out of my situation because going to Selhurst Park helps you forget everything. It’s an amazing feeling and all the time I was going back to my tent I was buzzing as I still got to see my beloved Palace. Meeting Mama and Christian was really surreal, but having them getting stuck in here – they spent some time and didn’t just stay for five minutes –made everyone feel involved and welcome."
The festive period at Crisis is for everybody, whether homeless or those that came through the system a few years ago. I can’t say enough about how much Crisis is helping people, and I now have a one-bedroom place down the road and am doing some voluntary work.”
Janice Gunn, Director of Crisis Croydon Skylight, said: “People really like to see football on the timetable, sport is great for people’s self-esteem and to help people feel good about themselves and people love Crystal Palace so we’ve been very excited to have the players down today.”
Watch a short video of their visit by pressing play on the video below:
Crystal Palace FC are encouraging its supporters to donate to Crisis this Christmas. For just £28.18 you can reserve a place for someone at Crisis at Christmas by clicking here.