Party mood takes over Great Yarmouth centre

Loneliness was dispelled by the infectious party atmosphere of Great Yarmouth's Open Christmas.

More than 150 people, who might otherwise have been spending Christmas alone, enjoyed a turkey dinner, musical entertainment and even a free raffle at the seafront Marina Centre.

The centre's Retro Skate arena was festooned with bright decorations for the 16th staging of the event.

Organiser Mike Hope, 70, of Thurton, near Loddon, said: 'Many of the people who come have mental health problems or learning difficulties. They are people who have fallen through the net for whatever reason. They are mostly single, many of them elderly or at least middle-aged, and would otherwise be on their own.'

The retired IBM manager, who also started the Open Christmas in Norwich, raises money throughout the year and is helped by a team of volunteers, including members of Yarmouth's Park Baptist Church.

He said: 'The hard work always starts the day before when my crew of volunteers prepares all the food.

'This year Bernard Matthews donated 40 turkeys - 18 for here and 22 in Norwich - and we have also been helped, as always, by Buckingham Emergency Food Appeal, a charity run by Norfolk couple Polly and Peter Bowles.'

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The vegetables for Yarmouth alone included three 56lb sacks of potatoes as well as a mountain of sprouts, carrots and parsnips.

Helen Smith, of Oxford Avenue, Gorleston, was proud to be organising her free raffle for the 16th time.

'Lots of people, including local schools, donate prizes and it means people can take away a present,' she said.

Mr Hope, who enjoys his own family dinner on Boxing Day, said he was looking for people to take over the mantle, but he was determined to see the event carry on.