Former homeless father and son join hundreds at Christmas Day lunch for the poor and the lonely
- Credit: Taz Ali
A father and son, who would otherwise have spent Christmas by themselves with little food, were among 500 guests who were welcomed at the Norwich Open Christmas event.
Now in its 27th year, the Christmas Day meal at St Andrew's Hall, in St Georges Street, welcomed the homeless, the elderly and those living alone to gather for a hot meal and games and to collect donations.
This is the second year John Mulley, 55, and Joshua, 21, of Racecourse Road, joined the festivities after Universal Credit left them hundreds of pounds short this winter.
'We are coping poorly,' said Mr Mulley. 'We have cut down on a lot of things; we're only having one meal a day.'
Mr Mulley said they had been living in destitution in Scarborough ever since the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) he had been receiving for his son was switched to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and now they are struggling to get by with Universal Credit.
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They had to wait six weeks to get their new benefit payment, but after spiralling into debt with mounting rent arrears they ended up living in a tent for six months in 2016 at Train Wood in Norwich.
With the help of the Salvation Army, City Reach and Norwich City Council, they were put into temporary accommodation before finally being given a new home.
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But they continue to struggle to make ends meet.
'It took a toll on my son, his mental health has deteriorated,' said Mr Mulley. 'Events like this are very helpful and we are grateful. We'll be taking food and a few clothes.'
Long rows and piles of donated clothing and shoes filled the crypt at the hall, which people in need were welcomed to take home.
There were also dozens of sleeping bags, pillows, duvets and blankets for those sleeping rough and for those who are not able to afford them this winter.
Colin Websdell, 75, of Northfields, said it was the first time he was spending Christmas without his brother and sister.
'They are getting old and they suggested I come here,' he said. 'Before I would go to my brother's in Harleston but I had a fall and it's hard for me to get up and down the stairs.
'If I didn't come here I would be on my own at home. It's a lovely and friendly atmosphere and that's what Christmas is all about.'
Emmeline Taylor, 44, of Heathgate, said she found it difficult to celebrate Christmas after her mother passed away two years ago.
'I'd be rotting away at home feeling completely depressed,' she said. 'The last two years has been horrendous.
'This event is wonderful, it's a God send. Everybody is chatting and it's fantastic.
Carol Lunney, trustee of Norwich Open Christmas said the numbers of people coming in for help grew every year, with families with children joining the homeless and the elderly.
'Every year we try to learn from last year and try to get better at meeting peoples' needs,' she said.
'When this started we had 50 guests, now we have an excess of 200 volunteers and 500 guests. It would be great if we went out of business but unfortunately it's grown every year.'
This is the third year India Harl, 23, has volunteered at the event. She was joined by mother Sally, 53, and friend Ramzan Miah, 25, from Luton.
'It's a brilliant atmosphere, it's always so busy and everyone is having a good time,' said Miss Harl.
'I would be at home with the family if I wasn't here, but I would be doing that later in the afternoon anyway.
'It's only fours hour out of my day which is nothing at all, it's just not Christmas for me without it.'