Army of volunteers ready to feed the five hundred for Open Christmas

Volunteers preparing vegetables for the Open Christmas lunch. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Volunteers preparing vegetables for the Open Christmas lunch. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Sixty six kilogrammes of Brussels sprouts and enough coats to fill the cloisters of St Andrew's Hall.

Volunteers preparing vegetables for the Open Christmas lunch. Juliette Houseago, left, and Mary Hunt

Volunteers preparing vegetables for the Open Christmas lunch. Juliette Houseago, left, and Mary Hunt.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

That is just a fraction of what the Open Christmas volunteers will be serving up to around 500 members of the homeless community and those who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day.

It is a Norwich tradition going back a quarter of a century, and every year sees hundreds of volunteers give up their own time to serve up a hearty meal.

Organisers Colin and Linda Harper have been volunteering at the event in St Andrew's Hall for 19 years since first getting involved after the death of their son.

'We are there because we are needed,' said Mrs Harper, 63.


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'We volunteered as a result of a personal family tragedy. One of our sons took his own life and we realised it would be difficult for our other children to be at home for Christmas.

'Grief is a natural process, but people have a hard time all year round and we wanted to help other people at Christmas. It was supposed to be a one-off but we enjoyed it so much and realised how important Open Christmas is to those who attend.'

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Michael and Rosie Hope founded the event in 1991 to feed the city homeless, and it has expanded five-fold over the years.

'There are those who are rough sleepers and registered homeless, and there are those who are sofa surfers,' added Mrs Harper. 'We are looking at between 50 and 100 homeless coming as guests.

'One of the things we are seeing more of these days is people on a low income or people who are having problems with benefits, and the number of disabled people who come are increasing.

'When we started there were 100 guests, and this year we expect 500. In one letter we received from a guest this week, she said her life had been bad but since attending for the first time in her life she could look forward to Christmas.

'A large number of volunteers start at Open Christmas for personal reasons. If any experience difficulty in their lives it can seem insurmountable, until they get there on Christmas Day and it puts their own problems into perspective.

'It is a most fulfilling way to spend Christmas Day, but it is also physically and emotionally demanding.'

There is no booking required to attend, but transport can be requested to get to the hall tomorrow. Colin Harper, 68: 'When I started here I was driving the disabled persons vehicle and at the time we only had one but now we need two.

'The more you give, the more you get back,' he added. 'The pleasure for us is being able to make people realise other people do care. Considering these days there is a lot of me, myself and I in society, a lot of people want to help at Christmas.'

The army of volunteers will be prepping at St Andrew's Hall throughout the day today. Open Christmas will begin at 11am and run to 5pm. Christmas lunch is served at 12.30pm, with Christmas tea in the afternoon. Entertainment will come from the volunteers and the cathedral choir.

Winter weather clothing will be available for guests to help themselves, and a bag of non-perishable food is given to each guest.

Open Christmas in numbers

-27 turkey saddles, weighing in at three and a half kilos each

-66 kilos of parsnips

-66 kilos of brussel sprouts

-90 kilos of potatoes

-55 kilos of carrots

-Enough winter clothing to fill the cloisters at St Andrew's Hall

-Total cost of the event comes in at £5,500 - £11 per head based on 500 guests

-260 volunteers in total with 214 working on the day and at least 100 people per shift

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