Not home alone this festive season
Christmas and the festive season is undoubtedly a time for celebrating with family and friends, but for some people it can be one of the loneliest times of the year.
Determined to make a difference in their community, one north Lincolnshire family has set up a charity that provides Christmas Day lunch and other events for people who would otherwise be alone.
About to celebrate its fourth year, Not Home Alone is supported by a team of more than thirty volunteers plus other businesses, community groups and individuals, who help bring some of the loneliest people across the greater Grimsby area together to make friendships and happy memories.
Nina Stobart, who founded the charity with her husband John, mum Wendy Nielsen, and brother Guy Bryant, is delighted they are able to support and help others at this special time of year.
“There are a lot of older people on their own, who live on their own, who do not have anyone at all,” says Nina.
“At Christmas everything is centred around family; all the television shows, adverts and films are all family orientated, and this can make people feel lonelier than normal.
“All the shops close, there’s not even anywhere you can go and have a cup of coffee, for many people it’s just them and their four walls.
“We, as no doubt many others do, read the stories in the press about loneliness and senior citizens and each year we used to say wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way we could invite someone into our family to enjoy Christmas with us, but that’s where it usually ended.
“In 2014, after a lot of hard work and the most unbelievable support from the local community we managed to fundraise and cover the cost to pick up, entertain and cook for fifty guests, who otherwise would have been alone.
“The reaction we got from these people, and our amazing supporters and volunteers has been wonderful.”
As well as their own discussions about helping others at Christmas, a chance meeting with an elderly lady in a car park sparked the decision for Nina and her family to act on their discussions.
“My husband got talking to a lady who happened to say she didn’t want to spend another Christmas on her own – he ended up giving her a lift home, chatting to her and continued to visit her.
“She lived in a nice area, but hadn’t got any family and didn’t know her neighbours. Her stories about the war were amazing. She only lived within a mile of us,” recalls Nina, who works in the communications and PR department at Hull Refinery.
“All she wanted was a little bit of time – a cup of tea and a chat – all of which costs nothing.
“We talked about it for ages and then decided we would organise a lunch for senior citizens who would be spending Christmas Day on their own.
“We started by looking for a venue, but had no idea how many people there would be, and no idea how to reach out to them.
“True to the Christmas story there was no room at the inn, we couldn’t find anywhere to host the lunch and then the owner of Miller’s Indian Restaurant, in Waltham, contacted us to say they’d love to help.”
With the venue sorted, Nina and her fellow volunteers set about finding guests who might benefit from and enjoy their lunch by putting up posters to spread the word. It wasn’t long before the phones were ringing and they had fifty bookings.
“We put our Christmas shopping list on Facebook and absolutely everything was donated by individuals and local businesses, from the turkeys to the mince pies.
“Everyone was so generous – we had messages to say people had paid for sausages and that we just had to collect them from the butcher. Absolutely everything was donated.
“And then we discovered the restaurant didn’t have any ovens – so the turkeys were de-boned and cooked at my house, and carried over. We had the best roast potatoes cooked in the onion bhaji fryer too!” recalls Nina.
Guests were picked up by volunteers using buses donated by Grimsby charity Dial-A-Ride, which has vehicles to help people get out, plus accessible transport for wheelchair users.
As well as providing Christmas lunch, the charity also put together a shoebox of gifts for each guest, while extra donations were distributed across the wider area.
The event was a huge success and as a result the volunteers began organising others including fish and chip lunches and afternoon teas, while last year Not Home Alone became a registered charity.
“Lots of local groups do fundraising for us, they hold events like cake sales, with everything raised going into helping our guests,” says Nina.
“We have between eighty and 100 people at each of our events – it’s a military operation picking people up, but some of them do not get out of the house otherwise, which still makes us think we’re not doing enough.
“One of the first events we did, we had a singer, so we asked if anyone wanted to dance; there was one gentleman who loved dancing, and used to go to the tea dances with his wife – but had not done so since losing her twenty-seven years ago.
“Dancing brought back good memories for him – there’s also the physical aspect of holding somebody while you are doing it too.”
The Christmas Day lunch is now held at Best Western Oaklands Hall Hotel, on the outskirts of Grimsby, where staff give up their time to help prepare the meal before attending to their own guests.
Nina says that none of the charity’s wonderful work would happen without its volunteers, who come from all walks of life, many of whom have been helping since the venture first started in 2014.
“This is the most amazing thing to do – but it couldn’t be done without the support of our volunteers,” she added.
“We are completely humbled by the support that we have received and it is an honour to make a difference to people’s lives, making friendships and memories.”