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What It’s Really Like To Be A Key Worker On Christmas Day

Have a holly, jolly... day at work.
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Father Christmas isn’t the only one working through the night on Christmas Eve.

For doctors, nurses, vets, rail engineers, police, lifeboat station helms, vicars and charity volunteers - December 25 can be just another day in the office.

To get a glimpse into how they experience Christmas we spoke to the folks about clocking on as well as finding out how they celebrate with their own families.

Steve Doherty works for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Steve Doherty
Steve Doherty works for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Steve Doherty works for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as a Helm at Tower Lifeboat Station on the Thames, one of four lifeboat stations on the Thames and the busiest of RNLI’s 238 stations across the UK and Ireland.

Providing a world class search and rescue service to London 365 days a year is a massive privilege and Christmas Day is treated the same. The river Thames and central London itself empties on Christmas Day so it has a very eerie feel, but the area is still very magical and working alongside our 999 colleagues we are still kept on our toes with emergencies. It is hard being away from family but we are with our crew mates who are our yellow family, which is the next best thing.

“My partner works for the Fire Service, she is also working on Christmas Day so we will have the evening together, but normally we both return to our hometowns two weeks prior to the big day. Emergencies happen 365 days a year but we wear our uniform with pride and help people in their time of need no matter what day of the year.”

Sergeant Phil Waite is an officer in the City of London Police. He was previously an officer in Hertfordshire for 23 years - and has worked 24 Christmases.

“In the olden days, you’d have a bit of a roast. Now, there isn’t time to do that but sometimes you’ll get a Christmas tree up decorated with ‘Do Not Cross’ police tape instead of tinsel. Instead of a fairy at the top, you’ll have an empty bottle of Fairy washing up liquid.

“When I was a younger single man, working Christmas didn’t bother me at all because I didn’t have any commitments, but now I’ve got a family and little kids it’s a bit different”

Karen has been a veterinary nurse for nearly 27 years.
Karen has been a veterinary nurse for nearly 27 years.

Karen is a veterinary nurse who has worked for the PDSA, the UK’s leading veterinary charity, in Cardiff for nearly 27 years. The charity’s vets and nurses will care for over 41,000 vulnerable pets this December, relying on donations to save pets’ lives.

I enjoy working over Christmas because it’s a completely different atmosphere – everyone is jolly, and even though our clients may be very concerned about their pets, they can see that we never stop caring and we’re doing everything we can to get them back home where they belong. Some even bring us in chocolates and biscuits to say thanks. For some people, their pet is their only family, so we know how important they are in their lives.

“We can be faced with anything on a Christmas day - from performing life-saving surgery to treating dogs that have over-indulged. I always try and give our pet patients extra cuddles at Christmas time.

“If I work the early shift, I will arrange our Christmas dinner for when I get home after my shift has finished. All the family come round, and I get to spend time with my two grandchildren in the evening. If I have to work the late shift, then we have our Christmas Day on Boxing Day. I am lucky that my family is very understanding and know that I need to work sometimes over the Christmas period, they know that nursing is my vocation - my daughter is following in my footsteps in wanting to train as a veterinary nurse!”

Revd Lucy Winkett is the Rector of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London
Natalie Sternberg
Revd Lucy Winkett is the Rector of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London

Revd Lucy Winkett is the Rector of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London.

“In the few weeks before Christmas, we hold a lot of carol services for local organisations, businesses, charities and neighbours. We give out socks, coats and sleeping bags to our homeless guests in the church throughout the winter but again this increases at Christmas time. On Christmas Day itself, we cook lunch - turkey, nut roast and all the trimmings - for all comers. Last year we fed 100 people; congregation, tourists, homeless guests and visitors. It’s always great fun and a bit chaotic!

“Many of our staff work until 2am on Christmas Eve, and then have to be on duty again on Christmas morning. So we are really lucky that some of our local hotels donate us hotel rooms so that our staff and volunteers can stay over, when there isn’t any public transport to get them here on Christmas Day. One of our hotel managers says he likes to ‘play the innkeeper’ and has been helping our volunteers in this way for a few years now.

“Almost all clergy work through Christmas, and so seeing family is fitted around carol services and midnight mass. I see family and friends usually after Christmas itself, when things calm down a little and we can spend time together then.”

Matt Charleston is a Samaritans listening volunteer.
Matt Charleston is a Samaritans listening volunteer.

Matt Charleston is a listening volunteer in the Manchester branch of Samaritans, the charity which provides emotional support to anyone in distress. He has been a volunteer for five years, and always volunteers for the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day shift, which runs from 11pm to 3am.

“Working on Christmas Day is not massively different from any other time - loneliness is more prevalent over Christmas and for people that don’t have good relationships or have lost someone, it’s a time they struggle. It’s promoted as a big family time where everyone comes together, but not everybody has that perfect Christmas.

“In the past, there’s always been a Muslim lady I run my shift with on Christmas Eve, and we usually get a takeaway together that we have at about midnight. It’s become a little celebration going into Christmas Day. I celebrate with my own family on Christmas Day - my shift finishes at 3am. I have a nap and go to my parents and we all go out as a family.”

The Samaritans service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year round.

Lucy Bayliss is the General Manager at boutique hotel Artist Residence Brighton
Jessica Miles
Lucy Bayliss is the General Manager at boutique hotel Artist Residence Brighton

Lucy Bayliss is the General Manager at boutique hotel Artist Residence Brighton

“Working on Christmas Day is very different to working on any other day - everyone is happier and in better spirits! It is really fun, but of course there is a downside - you have to watch everyone else spending time with their families and you are not with yours.

“If I do end up working Christmas Day then I arrange to spend time with my husband later in the day (and he can do the cooking whilst I’m at work!) and my family have a big get-together on Boxing Day which I can usually be a part of. My husband and I have also made plans to go away together at the beginning of January as our ‘Christmas’ - this has its upsides as it tends to be much cheaper than going away near Christmas time!”

Sarah Robinson is a birth doula at Birthbright, working in York and Scarborough, and works for Doula UK, which helps parents-to-be find doula birth support in their areas. The first doula birth she attended was on Christmas night at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in London for Sally and James, a vicar who’d had Christmas services just before. They named the baby Aurelie Beatrice, which means “golden and happy.”

“I was home with my husband and my two-year-old and we were having a quiet Christmas. I hadn’t drunk throughout the whole period (you can’t drink when you’re on call).

“The atmosphere in the hospital on Christmas was very quiet, very tranquil. The midwives were very joyful and happy and had lots of chocolate. They brought in a wrapped Christmas present for the baby - inside were newborn babygros. I always tell mums it’s really nice to give birth on Christmas Day - you get a new present.”

Veronica Heldt, zookeeper at ZSL London Zoo.
Veronica Heldt
Veronica Heldt, zookeeper at ZSL London Zoo.

Veronica Heldt has been a zookeeper at ZSL London Zoo since 2005. Even though the Zoo is closed to the public December 25, Veronica has a full schedule looking after the llamas, pygmy goats, coatis and owls

Christmas Day is the only day of the year that the Zoo closes, so it’s a treat to have the place to ourselves as we get to spend more one-on-one time with the animals we look after.

“We like to make it a festive day for all, by placing their breakfast or lunch in a brightly wrapped box, or a tube wrapped to look like a cracker: it’s great for them to use their natural skills to ‘open’ their presents - like kids do on Christmas morning!

“I’ll visit both my parents after work, which means a double whammy of leftovers - a traditional Christmas roast at my mum’s, followed by my father’s famous turkey curry.”

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