Group brings 20 years of festive cheer to North Walsham

Rev'd Valerie Watts and her husband John Watts are involved in organising Christmas lunches at North

Rev'd Valerie Watts and her husband John Watts are involved in organising Christmas lunches at North Walsham Community Centre which have been taking place for the last 20 years. Pictured from left Roger Vincent, Pauline Vincent, John Watts, Rev'd Valerie Watts, Helen Gosling and David Gosling.Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Kind-hearted volunteers know the festive score - having notched up 20 years of bringing Christmas cheer to people on their own.

They have given up their Christmas Day each year since 1995, to serve up hearty lunches, seasonal cheer and good company at North Walsham Community Centre on New Road.

In the past 20 years, countless plates of turkey with all the trimmings have been dished up, Christmas cakes devoured, and friendships forged during the lunches.

It all started when the Rev Valerie Watts persuaded husband John to put on his apron and prepare Christmas lunches for people living alone in the town.

Since then scores of diners young and old have taken advantage of a free meal and the chance to share some cheerful conversation.

Once again Mr Watts will working hard in the kitchen tomorrow assisted by Mrs Watts and the dedicated team of volunteers who enjoy helping on the day.

The town has rallied round, donating time and money to help provide the lunches over the years.

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North Walsham and District Lions Club and the Rotary Club of North Walsham are long-standing supporters, with Waitrose, North Norfolk Classic Vehicle Club and The Bluebell pub donating cash to the cause.

Mrs Watts, who is assistant clergy at St Nicholas Church, said: 'Loneliness is a hidden problem and Christmas can be a difficult time for people who have lost loved ones or are just living on their own.

'Many people who have come along over the years have made new friends and one group even started meeting down the pub at Christmas instead of coming to the lunches.

'So many volunteers lend a hand and there is even a dedicated couple from Tenerife, who stay in the area at Christmas, and help every year with the washing up.'

As well as a three-course meal guests are offered a welcome drink, present and a slice of Christmas cake and cuppa while sitting down to watch the Queen's Speech.

Transport is also provided for those needing some help getting along on the day.

Retired catering business owner Mr Watts said: 'It is a wonderful Christmas Day for us, we get so much out of it.

'Everybody mucks in. Valerie helps in the kitchen and goes round to chat to people; she is exceptional at that.'

He added; 'We are very close to our family and see each other a lot, but Christmas can be a very vulnerable time for people living on their own.

'We get a lot of diners returning year after year. At the end of the day people just like to have a chat. Company is the single most important thing.'

After 20 years in the kitchen at Christmas, Mr Watts is hoping to find an experienced chef to assist with the catering duties next year. Anyone able to help should call him on 07769 976825.