Room at the inn

In her regular column highlighting local projects, charities and services, Link4Growth volunteer Debra Oakaby finds out what’s cooking on Christmas Day

Mary-Rose French

Christmas Inn co-ordinator Mary-Rose French

‘Tis the season to be jolly, if you’re are fortunate to be spending Christmas with people who care about you.

Charity Age UK says ‘no-one should have no-one at Christmas’ yet they estimate 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely, often following retirement or bereavement.

Christmas is a poignant time, when memories of loved ones who have passed away can surface and reinforce feelings of loneliness.

Mary-Rose French is a trustee, duty helper and volunteer with CARE, an organisation of volunteers set up by Highams Park Council of Churches. She is also a coordinator of Christmas Inn, Winchester Road Methodist Church’s free centre on Christmas Day that welcomes people including single parents and their children, couples and people with disabilities, and anyone else who lives in the borough in need of company.

“I know I can go to friends and family but not everyone can,” Mary-Rose said when asked what motivates her to spend Christmas in this way.

“I feel that I am lucky. I have the health to do it and feel good sharing the day with others.”

On my visit I was impressed by the building’s modern entrance hall, which links the church, halls and kitchen together. Mary-Rose gave me a tour of the building and I went inside the church, where guests can worship on Christmas Day morning if they wish.

Hodgson Hall will be transformed into a dining room, while in the main kitchen a traditional dinner will be prepared for up to 120 people and served in two sittings.

Meals are even delivered to those who are housebound. In addition, the programme includes afternoon tea, entertainment and a raffle, and guests can take home a box of chocolates.

I learned CARE is comprised of a number of volunteers who provide neighbourly help to people in need. Once a month they serve Sunday lunch for Waltham Forest residents, which is so popular they have a waiting list.

About forty volunteers will be working on Christmas Day, performing a variety of roles such as serving dinners, washing-up and befriending the guests. Decorating the halls and laying tables starts on Christmas Eve.

In the meantime transport arrangements need to be made, enabling guests to get to the event on time, and home again safely at the end of the day. Volunteer drivers are especially required this year.

A logistical nightmare it could be, but Mary-Rose seems to have everything under control; this has been her festival ritual now for ten years.

If you would like to attend Christmas Inn either as a guest or volunteer:

Call 020 8523 5955



Link4Growth is holding its Christmas lunch at the YMCA Community Café on Friday 16th December 12-2pm. If you would like to join:

Call 07906 007 613