Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

A Christmas like no other: bringing virtual cheer to the UK and Ireland’s hospitals

December 11, 2020

For the last 14 years, Cisco has brought some Christmas magic to the children’s wards of the UK and Ireland’s hospitals, in the form of our Connected Santa.

Each year, our wonderful Cisco elves have visited the wards with presents and set up a grotto for children and their siblings to speak to Santa in Lapland, via Webex.

This year, we knew things needed to be different. But we also knew that if ever there was a year when children needed some Christmas cheer, it was this one. And so, we had to make it work.

Thanks to the wonderful and brave NHS staff, generous Cisco staff and volunteers, plus a sprinkling of the magic of technology, we made it a reality. Here’s how we did it…

Writing to Santa

This year’s letters to Santa were a little different. Instead of writing to Lapland, 12 hospitals across the UK and Ireland put together a gift list on Amazon. Then, generous Cisco employees purchased gifts until each list was complete.

In all, Cisco employees purchased well over 1,000 toys for children in need; a new record for the 14 years we’ve been doing this. In a year as difficult as this, it’s great to see our community pull together.

Santa’s workshop

Cisco volunteers received all the gifts, unpacked them, and ensured everything was as it should be. They were then sorted into hospital groups and repackaged into fewer parcels.

The presents were then quarantined under each hospital’s Covid-19 guidelines for at least three days, but in most cases much longer.

Usually at this point, Cisco elves would take the presents into hospitals, but this year we gave them to the brilliant NHS playroom staff, who helped us distribute presents. It’s just another example of their incredible work.

Connected Santa

Despite not being able to build a grotto this year, we still wanted to make sure children could speak to Santa and let him know their Christmas wishes.

So, as NHS staff went around the wards handing out presents, we gave them a tablet so that children could speak to Santa in ‘Lapland’ (Bedfont!) via Webex. Santa was able to explain why things were different this year, and that in order to keep everyone safe, it was important that he stayed in his workshop.

As a key worker who has to travel the world on Christmas Eve, I think we can all agree this is the right thing for him to do!

Spreading the magic of Christmas

All this week, children in hospitals across the UK and Ireland have been opening presents and speaking to Santa. Our colleagues in Portugal and Canada are also looking at how they can replicate the process to create their own Connected Santa experience.

While this Christmas is like no other, we’re proud to have played a small role in bringing a smile this year; hopefully next year we can bring Connected Santa to hospitals like we usually do.

Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to all of our staff who helped us make this a reality; Sarah and Jo who lead the programme, our volunteers who spent hours receiving, opening and repackaging presents, and anyone who bought a gift.

And of course, an extra special thank you to the wonderful NHS staff, who selflessly go to work on the frontline every day to care for our children in these difficult times. Despite the challenges they face, they still found time to support this.

I truly believe that this is the real magic of Christmas: people coming together to help others, and bring some much needed joy.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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