It has gone from strength to strength since it was first launched two and a half years ago, and now a Friendship Lunch inspired by The Yorkshire Post's Loneliness campaign is hoping more people will join them ahead of its latest event on Monday.
The monthly lunch at the Durham Ox in Crayke was launched on the first anniversary of the Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign in February 2015, and has since inspired similar events in both North and South Yorkshire.
The initial lunches, which were supported by local parish councils, groups and charities including Age UK, were such a success that they were soon rolled out to six other North Yorkshire pubs and hotels, yet remain as popular as ever at the founding venue.
The pub’s owners, Michael and Sasha Ibbotson, believed that the social practice of sharing a meal could be a “doorstep to friendship” for people who might not have the chance to get out very often, and they have been delighted with the continuing success of the events.
Mr Ibbotson said: “A lot of initiatives like this lose momentum, but this never has - we consistently get new people coming along, and they are constantly busy.
“We see a lot of the same faces each month, but what they seem to like is that we mix everyone up on long tables so they can meet new people.
“The lovely thing about the Friendship Lunch is that it is just that - it’s about friendship. People like to get together and have a natter.”
The Ibbotsons and some of the regular attendees were among guests invited by the Yorkshire Post to 10 Downing Street in December 2015 for a Christmas lunch hosted by then-Prime Minister David Cameron in recognition of their work tackling loneliness.
Mr Ibbotson added: “We are really proud of how the lunch has grown. It’s almost taken a life of its own. We still have people picking up others to come along, and volunteering to help those who couldn’t make it on their own.”
The Durham Ox will tonight (Thursday, September 7) discover if it has picked up a trio of awards at the Great British Pub Awards.
It is in the running for Best Inn, Best Pub Food, and chef Oli Farrar is nominated for Best Chef.
Mr Ibbotson added: “We celebrate 18 years as a family business in November and these kind of nominations are absolutely wonderful. We have a great team and we enjoy what we do. We are all still striving for excellence as much today as when we opened 18 years ago.
“North Yorkshire is a competitive area to be based. We have some great pubs and restaurants around us that keep us on our toes. It's a tough industry to be in but we're as passionate about this industry as ever.”
- A new memory cafe established to reduce the social isolation and loneliness people with early stage memory loss will be launched in Parson Cross, Sheffield, on Tuesday.
The cafe, at Parson Cross Forum, has been funded by The People Keeping Well in their Community Partnership, and ran by volunteers, will take place every Tuesday from 9.30am to 11.30am.
Each week the cafe will have different activities running, such as gentle exercise and reminiscence sessions.