Recession-hit families enjoy open christmas

PUBLISHED: 06:30 26 December 2012

The Annual Open Christmas event for the elderly and lonely at the Marina centre, Yarmouth.  Anne Saunders, Valerie King and Dot Pullen

The Annual Open Christmas event for the elderly and lonely at the Marina centre, Yarmouth. Anne Saunders, Valerie King and Dot Pullen

© Archant 2012

A rise in the number of families attending Great Yarmouth’s Open Christmas has been put down to the impact of the tough economic climate.

Nearly 400 people were catered for at the town’s Marina Centre yesterday in a tradition started nearly two decades ago.

In past years, it has been the elderly and homeless and people with drug and alcohol problems who have mostly taken advantage of a free Christmas dinner and afternoon of entertainment.

However, Isabel Minister, who led yesterday’s team of volunteers staging the event, said: “This year, more than before, families have been asking if they can come.

“We have not asked why, but putting two and two together, we think the recession is having an effect.

“We are also noticing more foreign people.”

Tanya West, of Bermondsey Place West, Yarmouth, who was at a table with her husband Jason and son Andy Morgan, 18, admitted financial reasons had driven them to spend Christmas there.

She said: “My husband is on a low wage working in a shop and, what with all the cutbacks, we don’t really have enough money to live on. We are in loads of debt.”

Susie Allen, who was at the centre with her sons Carl, 17, Curtis, 15, and eight-year-old daughter Britney, said finances were at the heart of the reason for them not spending Christmas at home in the town’s Howard Street South.

She said: “The oven on our cooker went wrong and I am having to wait for the social to sort it out.”

However, Theresa Burns, of Fakes Road West in Hemsby said she had come with her daughter Elisha, 13, to avoid the boredom of them being at home on their own.

She said: “We came last year - and loved it.”

Mike Hope and his wife Rosie started Open Christmas in Norwich 22 years ago and have been running the event in Yarmouth for 17 years.

This year spending Christmas Day at their home in Thurton, near Loddon, for the first time in two decades, they still played a leading role in the all-year meticulous planning for the events.

Mrs Minister, a teacher from Ormesby, near Yarmouth, said: “As a committee we meet at least once a month through the year. “A big debt of thanks has to go to Bernard Matthews which supplies the turkeys and local farmers who give us all the vegetables.

“We also get gifts from shops, including Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Tesco, and local companies, including Gardline.”

She said schools and colleges made cakes and mince pies for the event.

“In Yarmouth, we are catering for 300 to 400. The chefs are retired ex-Forces chefs who give their time on a voluntary basis.”

Emphasising the scale of the catering operation, she said 18 turkeys were prepared ahead of the Yarmouth event and several big bags of potatoes all had to be peeled.

The High Sheriff Henry Cator, who dropped in to thanks volunteers for their efforts, said: “I have spoken to whole families of volunteers giving up their day for people who might otherwise be alone or homeless and feeling alienated by Christmas. You can tell by the atmosphere everyone is having a great time.”

Yarmouth Mayor Colleen Walker said: “The importance of this event is shown by the fact I have spoken to people who have lost family members and have not seen anyone for months - until today.”

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