Black Santa expects to top last year’s total as charity vigil ends

Dean John Mann, with Reverend Janice Elsdon, welcomes another donation at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast
Dean John Mann, with Reverend Janice Elsdon, welcomes another donation at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast

The 60-year-old dean of Belfast’s Anglican cathedral said he has been grateful for both the public’s donations and the unusually mild weather, as he prepares to end his outdoor fundraising stint on Christmas Eve.

Dean John Mann said that single donations have ranged from under a pound to £5,000, and that his “gut feeling is we will do a little better than last year” when they come to totting up the final amount.

It is the fifth year he has been in charge of the long-running fundraising tradition, which sees him stand outside St Anne’s Cathedral – clad in black – for roughly nine hours each day while the public hand in donations.

The money is then split amongst around 200 different charities.

The tradition dates back to 1976 when then-dean Sammy Crooks began the first fundraising drive.

The target is to raise about £200,000, and last year £182,000 was raised.

By Wednesday afternoon, Dean Mann said about £122,000 had been raised – but that the total always rises after Christmas, as more donations collected during the festive period arrive with the Cathedral.

He expects that by the time all the money has been totted up after Christmas, the 2015 event will have raised between £180,000 and £190,000.

He said Wednesday saw them rake in £10,000, and was “the busiest day we’ve had this year”.

He said often the public will come up and give him warm socks or hot water bottles, but that this year he has been “very grateful” for the unseasonably warm weather.

“It’s certainly been milder, and quite noticeably so, from last year,” he said.

“We haven’t had as much rain; we had two days last year where it just rained all day.”

He said enduring such sodden conditions was “not pleasant”, but added: “There’s part of one that feels we ought to suffer a bit when out here doing this.”

This year has seen the introduction of a card-reading machine, capable of taking payments electronically.

However, since beginning the appeal on December 16, only around 20 donors had used it.

“Trying to use a wireless machine at the barrel [outside the cathedral] doesn’t always work,” he said.

He said many of the charities the appeal assists “have very few or no paid employees, and the sort of amounts the Black Santa fund is able to give can be quite a significant part of their turnover in the year”.

“We have in the past had very large individual donations,” he said.

“The majority comes in as just a very large number of donations, between £1 and £2, and £60 to £100.

“The likes of taxi drivers are very generous. On the first day, a taxi driver gave us £1,200. Another gave £250.”

He expects to start from about 8.30am, and to end his fundraising at about 4pm, or slightly later.