CHRISTMAS came early for 120 older people in Leeds today, all inspired by one man’s generosity towards those at risk of loneliness.
City businessman Mike Day’s youth was spent accompanying his father Ron on day trips, concerts and meals he’d organised for older people who were lonely and isolated.
Earlier this year, inspired by his father’s legacy, Mr Day decided to “carry on the baton” and organise a Christmas meal in the hope of bringing people together and creating friendships, just like ‘Ron’s Recycled Teenagers’ did decades earlier. With the help of Age UK Leeds and businesses across the city, yesterday’s event at the Marriott Hotel saw dozens of isolated older people indulge in a Christmas meal, enjoy entertainment and a raffle and leave with a party bag with a knee blanket and shortbread.
Transport was even provided by Mr Day’s colleagues at Cleckheaton-based Bibby Financial.
Mr Day, who raised more than £3,5000 to fund the event, said: “It has been fabulous - the room was packed. I lost my dad ay Christmas and this was my way of honouring his memory. He was a big advocate of family and older people.
“When it began, I thought maybe 50 or 60 people would come, but thanks to the support of Age UK Leeds and the business who have helped us, more than 120 people came along. Not everybody has family, so it has been a pleasure to bring people together and help to combat loneliness.”
There are currently 37,000 lonely or isolated older people living in Leeds, with organisations like Age UK Leeds are the forefront of trying to combat loneliness and social isolation.
Fundraising director Lisa Burnett said Christmas could be a “particularly lonely time” for older people, when children can be the focus of attention.
The event was initially planned as a one-off, but Mr Day said that “seeing the smiles on people’s faces” has encouraged him to do it again.
He has even been in talks with Kim Leadbeater, the sister of murdered Batley MP Jo Cox and ambassador of the Jo Cox Foundation, about the possibility of putting on events elsewhere in West Yorkshire next year.
Mr Day added: “None of this would have possible without the fantastic support of Lisa and her team at Age UK Leeds, who have been absolutely brilliant in finding people to come along, and my colleagues at Bibby who have been fantastic in helping out on the day.
“We’ve had around 15 businesses from across Yorkshire who sponsored tables too, and they haven’t just done that, they’ve turned up on the day and spent time chatting to our guests too. So many people have made it all happen.”