'My first Christmas in my own place'

By Levi Jouavel
Newsbeat reporter

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Image source, Levi Jouavel
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My first ever Christmas tree

If you'd told me years ago that at 20 years old I'd be sitting in my own flat writing about putting up Christmas decorations, I wouldn't have believed you.

I've never had a Christmas tree before, it wasn't something we did as a family, so the feeling of buying my first one and putting it up was so exciting.

So much so that I actually did it in the middle of November - and I still haven't heard the last of it from colleagues and friends who told me it was way too early.

As Christmas Day approached, I wanted to hear from people in a similar situation - those who moved in to their own place this year.

'I always excluded myself from Christmas'

Image source, Shannon
Image caption,
Shannon plans to have a small meal on Christmas with a few friends

This time last year, 22-year-old Shannon was living in accommodation run by Centrepoint - a youth homelessness charity.

She went into care when she was seven, and always found the festive season hard, not being with her family.

"I just didn't care for it as much as I did when I was with my family - so I always excluded myself."

She was at Centrepoint for four years after leaving her care placement and at Christmas staff would put on a festive dinner and buy gifts from donations.

"I wasn't expecting the staff to do anything at all, so I was really surprised when they came together to put up lights and tinsel.

"It made me feel like I wasn't forgotten about."

But now, Shannon has been relocated to her own flat and despite losing her job during the pandemic, she is looking forward to the festive season. In fact - she had her tree up earlier than I did.

"This year is different, it's my Christmas and I can do it my way," she says.

'It doesn't feel like Christmas'

But Neneh Watfa isn't feeling the Christmas spirit.

She's 21 and has been in her housing association flat since May, after moving out of her mum's house.

"I'm enjoying living by myself so far, I feel more independent and I've liked having my own space and like transforming it into what I want.

"But it is really hard, I've had to adapt to doing night shifts and working on my uni work as well, so it's been a bit of a struggle."

Image source, Neneh Watfa
Image caption,
'You're never really ready to move out until you're in that position'

She's decided not to put up a tree, but she's hung some fairy lights.

"I thought it would put me in a festive mood but it didn't really change my mood, that's why I haven't bothered to put up a tree because it's not worth it."

Originally, Neneh hoped to host Christmas at her flat with her family, but delivery times for her sofa and dining table were delayed.

As she is a single person household, she is allowed to form a support bubble over Christmas, so she's decided to spend the rest of the day at her mum's.

"I told my mum I would cook Christmas dinner this year so I can have a bit of Christmas festivity in my own house and then take the food down to hers.

"It's nice, but it would have felt better if I could have all of my family over to celebrate having my first flat over Christmas."

'It's like a Christmas miracle'

Andreea is a 21-year-old single mum.

She was living in a refuge for domestic abuse survivors with her baby daughter but now she has somewhere to call home - just in time for Christmas.

"My Christmas tree was the first thing I put up when I moved in," she says.

"It will be different, but I am so happy that I am in my own place now, it will be the best Christmas of my whole life. It's like a Christmas miracle."

In the refuge, Andreea had to share facilities with other women and children. She says she's happy to not be spending Christmas there.

"It was tough as you can imagine, space was tight and it was loud - I felt scared about the virus."

She was supported by Beam, a social enterprise that supports young people in particular to get into homes and build independence.

They support young adults who have grown up in the care system, or people who have experienced a breakdown in their family.

Alex Stephany, founder of Beam said: "Being a young person moving into your own place can feel like a big step, particularly as there's a lot to coordinate with things like bills and furniture.

"The Christmas period will be difficult, particularly for young people who may be alone for the first time, but the good news is that there are so many organisations out there who are willing to help."

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