A WEST Yorkshire pensioner who spent Christmas Day at his local care home has told how an initiative that brings people together on December 25 spared his loneliness, as research revealed that almost three quarters of older people in Yorkshire still don’t know how they will spend Christmas.
Kenneth Ford, 62, from Silsden, would have spent last Christmas at home alone if he hadn’t stumbled across Community Christmas, which last year compiled listings for more than 500 Christmas Day activities for older people on its website.
The organisation, which has joined forces with national isolation charity Contact the Elderly, aims to ensure no older person spends December 25 alone if they don’t want to.
Last year, Mr Ford spent both Christmas Day and Boxing Day at Bupa’s Burley Hall came home in Burley in Wharfedale, and enjoyed it so much he plans to return this Christmas.
He said: “I have a sister in London, who I only discovered a few years ago, but it’s difficult to visit. Usually I’d just be on my own, and its not worth cooking for one.
“Last year it was nice to have a bit of company, and I’m looking forward to going back this year.”
Burley Hall’s manager Jodie Bucher, said the home’s residents enjoyed welcoming new faces to the table too. “We know loneliness is a growing issue for elderly people - at Christmas and all year round,” she added.
The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to raise awareness of the issue of loneliness, which effects more than 90,000 older people in Yorkshire, since 2014.
There are already dozens of regional events listed on the Community Christmas site, including Christmas lunches at Ilkley Baptist Church, East Thirsk Community Hall, the HARC Project in Sheffield, and Willerby Methodist Church in Hull.
When the site was established in 2011 by community transport volunteer Caroline Billington there were just four events listed, but it has really taken off with support from, amongst others, the Jo Cox Foundation.
Ms Billington said: “I volunteered on Christmas Day almost ten years ago and it changed my life. I knew then that I wanted to focus my time and energy on creating something that would benefit older people for years to come.
“Now, Community Christmas is its own entity, it’s growing organically with more and more events and activities being added to the site every day. Anyone can host an event, it doesn’t have to involve cooking a Christmas feast for 20 people.
“It could just mean arranging tea and Christmas cake at a local village hall, or singing Christmas carols in the pub. It’s anything that gets people together in the community who otherwise might be alone on Christmas Day.”
Contact the Elderly, which is known for its tea parties, said it would encourage people to tell their older neighbours or family members who may not have plans for Christmas about the site. Its research shows that even with just five weeks to go until Christmas, almost a third of people in Yorkshire feel anxious and worry about making plans for the festive period.
Chief executive Meryl Davies said: “Everyone recognises that Christmas can be a difficult time of year, particularly for people who are isolated or vulnerable.”
To find an event near you, visit www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk/Christmas