Feast for the lonely and homeless

Take 25 turkeys, 50kg of potatoes, five bags of sprouts, four sacks of carrots and two sacks of parsnips, add 22 volunteers and one head chef, mix together and what have you got? Dinner for more than 300 people at yesterday's popular Open Christmas event in Norwich.

Take 25 turkeys, 50kg of potatoes, five bags of sprouts, four sacks of carrots and two sacks of parsnips, add 22 volunteers and one head chef, mix together and what have you got? Dinner for more than 300 people at yesterday's popular Open Christmas event in Norwich.

While many were out searching for that last minute gift on Sunday, a willing band of helpers were at City College Norwich peeling, stuffing and scraping in preparation for the annual event, which ensures that vulnerable and lonely people from across the region have a Christmas to remember.

In two shifts starting from 8am, the volunteers - under the command of Steve Thorpe, the college's head of food and beverages operations - spent the morning cooking a full Christmas lunch and a vegetable lasagne for non-meat eaters.

Mr Thorpe said: "Within the Hotel School we have been involved for about 14 years, I think. Myself and a colleague take it in turns, this will be my ninth year.

"Usually everything goes to plan and the volunteers are great. It is really important to get the preparation right."

And there were certainly no complaints at St Andrew's Hall yesterday as guests tucked into the bumper feast, which also included Christmas pudding for dessert.

Most Read

Lisa Vincent, who used to attend the event as a child, brought her own five-month-old daughter Kasmine along.

"We only moved into our new house three weeks ago and before that we were homeless. I used to come here when I was a kid and I thought it would be nice for Kasmine with all the music and people."

Lisa and her partner Ian Robertson said attending the event meant they were not just sitting at home on their own.

"It gives us a chance to be around other people rather than being alone at Christmas," she added.

Now in its 15th year, special guests included a visit from Lord Mayor of Norwich Felicity Hartley and her consort, son Chris Seelhoff.

Linda Harper, who co-ordinates the event, said it seemed busier than ever with more families attending than before.

"In Norwich, unlike most cities, homelessness is not a major problem - though obviously it still occurs. Many people who come here would otherwise be alone at Christmas so we want to give them a time to remember.

"We get far more out of it than we put in."

About 80 volunteers helped yesterday, not only serving food but transporting guests to and from home.

Maggie said: "This is my fifth year of volunteering, although it is the first time I have helped prepare the food as well.

"I find it worthwhile and the event is always very enjoyable."

Jane, who has been volunteering for about six years, said: "If I didn't do it I would be on my own at Christmas, not that it really bothers me, but this helps people who perhaps are on their own and don't want to be. Where else can you go to a party for more than 200 people?

"I went abroad one year for Christmas and really missed it."

While new volunteer Gary said: "This is what Christmas is all about.

"I think these days it is too commercial and people get caught up in the financial side of things. It isn't about money, and that's what people should remember."

Guests were also invited to take home donated clothing and a food parcel given by local businesses and individuals.

The Salvation Army also held events in Norwich and Dereham to ensure people had hot food and company.