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    Volunteers bring Christmas cheer to older people who may have spent day alone

    From:The Guardian   View:650   Date:2014-12-23

    “I’ve always spent Christmas Day alone, so this is a real treat. It’s so good to have others to share a meal with and people to chat and laugh with,” says one elderly man from a small village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.

    Christmas can be a difficult time. In rural North Yorkshire, where there are probably more sheep than people and not much in the way of entertainment, it can also be a desolate time for those who find themselves alone.

    Faced with this reality, each year for the past four years a group of volunteers have chosen to celebrate Christmas Day with people in the area who are alone, or who live with a dependent relative or partner. As daughter of the woman who came up with idea, I get roped in, primarily to operate the industrial dishwasher in the village hall.

    My mother Penny Johnson, who is a counsellor, was inspired to do something after listening to the harrowing story of a woman who found herself contemplating suicide. She says: “She rang me a couple of days before Christmas, and told me she was ready to kill herself. She literally had no one. I encouraged her to see a GP, and she went.

    “I have become aware of many people in our community who find it very difficult at Christmas, either because they’ve lost a spouse and are living alone and have no family; or because they are living with a dependent relative; or they come from a dysfunctional family where this time of year is always difficult and unpleasant.”

    On a national scale, 10% of those aged over 65 expect to spend the festive season mostly on their own, according to a recent BBC poll. Meanwhile, according to research by Age UK, 400,000 people aged 65 or over are worried about being lonely this Christmas. What’s more, 2.5m older people are not looking forward to the festivities with nearly 650,000 saying it’s because this time of year brings back memories of those who have passed away.

    It’s these people whom a core group of six volunteers – all over 65 themselves and most with family living far away – from the local parish church aims to help. Every year so far, around 12 guests have attended and a group of around 20 (volunteers included) sit down together to celebrate and eat roast turkey and all the trimmings. The room is decked out in festive gear; there’s a Christmas tree in the corner with presents covering the base. Tinsel and decorations hang from the walls and the ceiling, and carols play in the background.

    Most years, the group includes familiar faces, which makes it feel like a family occasion; everyone catches up on the events of the past 12 months, and the local gossip. One woman who lives alone says: “It takes me back to childhood when we all sat round as a family, everybody celebrating Christmas together. It’s so nice to have a roast meal because I’d never be able to do this on my own.”
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