Belfast Telegraph

Belfast's Black Santa collection continues to bring light into the lives of others at Christmas after 38 years

By Ricky Thompson

On a chilly December morning, while most of us are at work or running around desperately trying to grab that last minute Christmas present, one gentleman is braving the wind and rain to raise money for those in need.

The Very Reverend John Mann, the Dean of Belfast, has been standing at the steps of Saint Anne's Cathedral for more than a week, greeting generous members of the public who decided to contribute to his charitable collection.

The kind deed has earned him, and three deans before him, the nickname of Black Santa. The title is now well known and many stop their cars in traffic to quickly pass some money to the cleric.

The Black Santa tradition has been going for 38 years and was started by Dean Crooks in 1976. The traditional stuck and is now replicated every year.

Usually, the Dean will stand with the collection barrel for 8 days but this year, it's a bit longer for a special reason.

"This year we've done it for 11 days", Dean Mann says with a gentle smile.

"The reason for that is one of the blue plaques put up by the Ulster Historical Circle. It was put up to honour Dean Crooks for starting this process and that went up on Friday, December 12, and it seemed logical to start immediately from then, which meant we were doing an extra three days.

"This is my fourth year but we don't know exactly how much has been collected because, certainly in the early days no record was kept but we do collect about £200,000 a year.

"Most of the money is distributed within charities within our own community. That's 85 percent of the money. The other 15 percent goes abroad through charities like Christian Aid."

Dean Mann relishes the opportunity to stand at the Cathedral's steps every year: "It's quite an experience and, of course, a considerable privilege to do it.

"People say 'oh you raise all this money'. Actually I don't raise any money at all, all I do is stand there. It is the experience of meeting people that is part of it, from the youngest child that comes with their piggy bank to other people putting in all sorts of amounts of money.

"The largest single donation we had this year in cash in the barrel was over £3,000."

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