April 23 2014 Latest news:
By LAUREN ROGERS
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
The thought of spending Christmas Day alone can cast a dark cloud over the festive period.
But thanks to the hard work and kind hearts of volunteers in Great Yarmouth, some 300 people without family will spend tomorrow surrounded by friendly faces.
Now in its 18th year, Open Christmas Great Yarmouth is back and braced for another hugely successful dinner service.
The annual event was founded by Mike and Rosie Hope who wanted to make sure that everyone enjoyed a Christmas Day whether they were living on their own, homeless or were unable to afford a proper Christmas meal.
It is now run by a committee of five dedicated people and about 100 volunteers, who are willing to give up part of their Christmas Day for complete strangers.
For Joan Naylor, who has been on the organising committee for 13 years, seeing people pull together like that - whether they are driving people to the Marina Centre where the meal is held or peeling thousands of sprouts of Christmas Eve - is Christmas spirit personified.
“I think a lot of people realise how much they take for granted at this time of year, whether it is their families or their health, and Christmas is one of those days when you have the opportunity to give something back,” said Mrs Naylor.
The event is much more than a traditional Christmas meal with crackers - there is live entertainment, a raffle, a jumble, a game of bingo and everyone who comes is sent home with a goodie bag.
Well supported by local people and Yarmouth businesses, almost everything laid on the tables is donated.
“We get 18 turkeys from Bernard Matthews,” said Mrs Naylor.
“All the fruit and vegetables come from Buckingham Emergency Food Appeal (Befa), and we have a lot of donations from local people and local companies. The borough council employees collect tins for us and Flegg High School have a wonderful competition where all the classes make these big hampers out of cardboard. The one that wins is filled with donations and they are all brought to the hall.
“We get donations from Lovewell Blake accountants and Pasta Foods too. A lot of offices give to us instead of sending Christmas cards to colleagues.
“The local support is fantastic really.”
The Hopes started Open Chrismtas in Norwich 22 years ago. The couple worked with recovering drug and alcohol addicts and saw that while support was available throughout the year, it disappeared on Christmas Day - the one day when the risk of falling off the wagon was high.
“Over the years we have seen the demograph really change,” said Mrs Naylor.
“We don’t get as many homeless people anymore.
“It’s now pensioners without family or whose family live far. far away. There are the recently bereaved, but also young families who just can’t cope with Christmas financially.
“It really is for lots of different people, but none of whom want to be alone on Christmas Day.
“Some of the volunteers are often people who don’t want to spend Chrismtas alone. They are younger people who don’t necessarily want to sit down and be waited on, but they don’t want to be by themselves either.”
Open Christmas Great Yarmouth is being held at the Marina Centre (the Retro Skate end) from 11am to 5pm tomorrow (December 25).
Guests can simply turn up - there is no need to book.