Welbeloved Club Christmas dinner: Community pulls together for a cracker of a festive feast for 102 lonely OAPs
For the second year in a row, the community pulled together in response to the Indie's Welbeloved Club Christmas Dinner Appeal to give 102 elderly people a festive treat to treasure.
Socially isolated senior citizens from Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth gathered on Sunday for a freshly-cooked traditional turkey meal – and for some of them, it will have been their only seasonal celebration.
Sawbridgeworth Memorial Hall was transformed by a band of 25 volunteers into a cornucopia of Christmas delights.
All 300-plus items for the event – from the tablecloths to the turkey crowns, the vegetables to the vino and Christmas puds to presents – were donated by big-hearted, community-minded Indie readers within days of the November 20 launch of our online appeal.
The Welbeloved Club was started by Jo Gill, 27, of Cedar Park, Thorley Park, in February 2018 to combat social isolation among the elderly. It is named in memory of her great-grandmother, Doris Welbeloved.
Dozens of OAPs gather at the Memorial Hall on the first Sunday of each month for a two-course lunch and, more importantly, company. Jo's mum Gill is chief cook, dad Gerry drives some of the guests and they are supported by friends who volunteer.
Sunday's December gathering doubled as the club's Christmas dinner. Guests arrived to a sherry or juice followed by a main course of turkey with all the trimmings, a dessert of Christmas pudding and mince pie with brandy sauce, and tea or coffee with mints. There was a selection of wines and soft drinks.
Entertainment was provided by singer Darrell Williams, who starred in Bishop's Stortford Musical Theatre Company's recent production of Jekyll and Hyde The Musical at Rhodes Arts Complex. His medley of Christmas songs and other hits got some of the old folk dancing.
Each guest went home with two Christmas cards and a present, while about 25 also won raffle prizes.
The gifts were distributed by three-year-old twins Maisie and Rory McCambridge, directed by their mum and dad Aideen and Niall, who are neighbours of the Gill family. Niall is sales director with commercial catering equipment supplier Neville UK and has supported the club by providing trolleys, glassware and teapots.
Cook Gill said: "For many of our guests without any living family, this lunch is their only opportunity to enjoy a Christmas get-together with other people.
"One of our guests, from Sawbridgeworth, has had an operation on her foot and has been in her bedroom for five weeks and feels desperately lonely. She asked if we could collect her on the minibus – of course we said yes."
The Welbeloved Club Christmas dinner is a shining example of the community coming together. Jo said: "The support has been unbelievable and it's safe to say everyone had the best time."
The 16 festive floral centrepieces on the tables were supplied by Floral Desire, the florist in Newtown Road, Stortford, owned and run by Indies community awards Young Entrepreneur runner-up Amy Saunders, 21. The discounted £200 cost was covered by Sawbridgeworth businesses Panache Dry Cleaners and Mint Café.
N H Eaton French Polishers paid for the £75 cost of miscellaneous items, R. Purvis Property Services donated £60 to cover the fresh veg and Hockerill Street wealth management business Hanbury Wealth bought the Christmas puddings.
An anonymous donor gave £175 to pay for the turkeys and pigs in blankets from Stephens Butchers in Snowley Parade on Stortford's Parsonage estate, which supports the Welbeloved Club every month by discounting its prices.
Gill said: "This Christmas, because we had extra numbers, we needed more meat than we initially expected. Bob and Jan from Stephens decided we could still have them at our original price, meaning that our sponsors still covered 100% of the meat and veg."
The club volunteers prepared, cooked and served 20kg of turkey crowns, 140 pigs in blankets, 120 stuffing balls, 120 Yorkshire puddings, 25kg of potatoes, 10kg each of sprouts, parsnips and carrots, 5kg of peas plus 10kg of Christmas puddings, 120 mince pies, eight litres of brandy sauce and three litres of cream.
They plied guests with five litres of sherry, 36 bottles of wine, eight litres of orange, apple and cranberry juices, plus tea and coffee.
Each diner received two Christmas cards: one from the Welbeloved Club and one from Brownies from across the Bishop’s Stortford Girlguiding district. Ngaire Lushington, a Guider with the 3rd Thorley Brownies, said: "Many of the girls thought very hard about what to write and reflected on what loneliness really meant and how they would feel in this situation."
Gill added: "A six-year-old Cub Beaver living in Sawbridgeworth decorated a pot plant with hopeful messages. He came in and gave it to a lady who lives on her own and wished her a happy Christmas."
Kim Bird and two friends hand-made festive teabag holders for every guest. Each was individually wrapped and held a chocolate mint. And St Cecilia’s Church in Little Hadham lent 120 glasses for the sherry.
More by this authorPaul Winspear