Two generations come together in the name of community spirit at Christmas

Increasingly we are all being asked to help out in our neighbourhoods, look out for one another in difficult times, and spend more time volunteering.

REBECCA GOUGH found out how two groups came together in the spirit of Christmas and communities to do just that.

They ranged from nine-years-old to those in their nineties and despite the obvious age gap there were smiles on everyone's faces.

This was a very special Christmas dinner organised by a dozen or so youngsters from a youth centre in Thetford for a group of elderly people living just yards away.

The entire party, from the planning and delivery to decorations, cooking and entertainment was organised by a dedicated team of volunteers between nine and 15-years-old as part of an Inter-generational Volunteering Project.

The idea is simple and aims to bring people of all ages together to promote greater understanding and respect between generations. But it is also more than that and at the heart of it is a great deal of good old-fashioned community spirit.

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It is something the war-generations will know all about, is even more important at Christmas, and echoes thoughts of David Cameron's Big Society concept which aims to bring more power to the people, as it were.

Without even realising it, the youngsters came together at Thetford's Meet Up Cafe, on the Redcastle Furze Estate, to integrate themselves into their community and break down barriers between the two generations.

Fifteen-year-old Tom Gallagher, who regularly attends the cafe and took part in the Christmas dinner on Thursday said: 'When we went to visit them I think they were expecting us to be in hoodies but working with them showed them we're not all chavs and we can just be genuine people. All the organising has been hard work but it's rewarding.'

Abigail Lloyd, 11, summed up the event and said: 'Sometimes they are alone at home and haven't got anybody to celebrate Christmas with so they need cheerful people around them. If you make them happy you feel good inside and know you've done something really nice.'

James Piesse, 13, added: 'It's good to help people because when they're sad you bring happiness into their lives.

'When you're talking to them they get to know you and are more friendly.'

The young and older people all enjoyed a 'home cooked' meal of turkey with all the trimmings, brimming mugs of tea and coffee and listened to a classical singer as well as Christmas carols from the volunteers themselves.

Shirley Hurr, 63, of Cannons Walk, said: 'What they've done tonight is superb because we can talk to children on the same level. Helping people was the way we were brought up. We've got to help one another out.'

Lettie Hatchfield, 90, also of Cannons Walk, said she was glad to get out of the house.

She added: 'So often you get cut off from everybody and often people don't want to know you. Often young people won't talk to elderly people.

'We don't get out at night times much, more often it's during the day.'

All too often there is a lack of understanding between the young and old which can be easily solved with a little communication.

Publicity and marketing officer at Age UK Norfolk, Gemma Pendleton, said: 'I think the benefits for young children who may not have grandparents, or whose grandparents may be younger than you'd expect, are huge and the elderly people just light up being around young people.

'It's about bringing back that feeling of community spirit by seeing if you can help someone by popping to the shop for a pint of milk or picking up a supply of leaflets from our offices to drop in to them.

'A lot of the services they may have received in the past from the county council are under threat so it's important they know what else is out there for them.'

The Meet Up Caf�, on the town's Redcastle Furze estate, is run by The Benjamin Foundation, a Norfolk charity which aims to provide practical help and support for families, young people and children experiencing difficulties in their lives.

Service manager at the cafe, Terry Jermy, said although the idea of empowering the community was positive, the delivery would need work.

'One of the reasons they wanted to do something for the elderly is because they thought they hated them,' he said.

'They wanted an opportunity to work together and food is a very good way of doing that. Doing things for the community is crucial but in places like the Redcastle estate you've got to give them the skills to help themselves.

'They ask if they're doing it right and there's a fear of doing it wrong so some people don't do it in the first place. With time though they realise they can do it.'