The bringers of comfort and joy

Posted on December 7, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Family together at Christmas

Like all children I loved Christmas because it meant presents! The anticipation of what I’d find at the end of my bed and under the tree was almost unbearable. Then there was the food and chocolates (especially the tins of Cadbury’s Roses), and there was also Dora. I asked my mother why did Dora have to come to Christmas lunch every year?

“Because she’s on her own,” she replied, and reminded me to be polite and talk to this elderly friend. Dora loved her Christmas dinner; she had a hearty appetite, and afterwards she’d drop off to sleep in front of the fire, then watch a bit of television before my father drove her home. Today, there are even more people like Dora, elderly, living alone and with no family to spend Christmas Day with.

There are around two million people in the UK aged over 75 years and who live alone. Of those, 1.5 million are women. There is also a very lovely organisation that I’d like to bring to your attention called Community Christmas and its goal is to make sure that no elderly person is alone on Christmas Day. It is relatively new as it has only been in existence since 2007, when founder Caroline Billington happened to be the bus driver for a group of elderly ladies who were on their way to a Christmas dinner. As Caroline herself says: “It was a journey that changed my life.”

She said that when she collected them to take them home, she was struck by three things:

  • What a fantastic time they’d all had.
  • She wished she’d been part of it.
  • All the women were happy that they’d met other people they could have a cup of tea with at any other time of the year.

So, the following year, she decided to organise a local lunch for the elderly and it was such a success that she organised other events before formally founding Community Christmas in 2011. This enabled her to take on volunteer helpers and to organise events around the country rather than just locally, with the focus on making it easy for elderly people living alone to find companionship.

Since then they’ve had house parties in Scotland as well as the more traditional lunches in community halls. It also has registered charity status and works closely with Friends of the Elderly to expand and diversify the support it offers to older people, including respite care in Abbeyfield Home for older carers. Community Christmas has also just received a Big Lottery grant that will allow them to add many more activities and locations around the UK.


Christmas Market in Winchester

This is where you could come in: Community Christmas doesn’t just work with community groups, it encourages individuals in the community to invite elderly neighbours in to watch TV with them, join them for lunch or take an elderly person on their own out to the pub, a café or to some other social event that gets them out of the house. One individual who volunteered to have an elderly gentleman join the family on Christmas Day had this to say: “We had an elderly gentleman coming to us for the first time who burst into tears when opening his gift – it was the only one he had received.”

Community Christmas says that 87% of older people want a traditional Christmas spent in company and you can connect with the Events and Activities the organisation offers and help them in a few ways:

  • Tell them about a Christmas Day event or activity in your locality that welcomes the elderly so they can publicise it on their website.
  • Offer to organise a new activity, whether it is a lunch club, a film show or some other kind of group activity. Community Christmas will support you with information about how to do it, basically.
  • Become a volunteer with Community Christmas and play a valuable role in your community.

Please remember that many of the places an elderly person might go for company on Christmas day will be closed – by inviting a person to your home, you could be the friendly face that brings comfort and joy to a lonely, elderly person this Christmas and throughout the year.

Whether you would like to volunteer, or you’re looking for an event for an elderly relative or neighbour you can find everything you need to know here.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.