Flanked by two Bishops, the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde, began his annual charity sit-out on the steps of St Anne’s Cathedral early on December 17.
Dean Forde is Belfast’s fifth Black Santa – the tradition was started by Dean Sammy Crooks in 1976 and maintained by successive deans – Jack Shearer, Houston McKelvey and John Mann.
This year is particularly challenging for Dean Forde and his team, as the pandemic restrictions mean footfall in Donegall Street, where Black Santa stands daily with his barrel, is likely to be dramatically reduced.
However, a much improved online presence, generously supported by PWC, means that Black Santa can be seen, in a virtual sense, in every home via his dedicated website.
Dean Forde was joined on the morning of day one of the sit-out by the Rt Rev George Davison, Bishop of Connor, and the Rt Rev David McClay, Bishop of Down and Dromore. Cathedral Canons and staff will keep Black Santa company on the steps until the 2020 sit-out finishes on Christmas Eve.
Spirits were high on the first day and plenty of people made donations as they walked or drove by. There was coffee and shortbread, photographs and interviews.
Around 200 charities are set to benefit from the annual appeal. This year, Dean Forde has chosen to focus on charities supporting people with mental health issues in the face of the current pandemic, in addition to a wide range of other needs.
If you are in the city centre, please consider stopping by Belfast Cathedral – or pay a visit to the Black Santa website – and support the Dean and his team as they raise funds for those in need across Northern Ireland. You can also donate by text – text SANTA to 70660 to donate £10!