5 years of Christmas with Age Better in Sheffield
Peter, volunteer coordinator, reflects on 5 years of Christmases at Age Better in Sheffield. From communal festive celebrations to mass donations of turkeys, ABiS has partnered with organisations across Sheffield to bring Sheffield folk together on Christmas day for the last 5 years. And although things may look a little different, that will still be the case this year!
Every year Age Better in Sheffield have coordinated a Christmas Meal on Christmas day. In recent times, we have partnered with Ignite Imaginations, a Sheffield-based arts charity, to coordinate Christmas as part of our Sparks project. As getting together in large groups won’t be possible this year, we will be bringing a Christmas Meal Experience to people’s front doors!
With the help of a gang of volunteers, 340 people in total will benefit from this years Christmas Meal Experience. Over 170 people will be getting a hot Christmas meal delivered to their door, 315 will be getting a gift bag and around 200 people will be receiving a befriending call on Christmas day.
Peter looks back over the 5 Christmases we’ve hosted at Age Better in Sheffield and at how this year will be a little different but as important as ever.
“Hi, I’m Peter Conlan and I’ve worked as part of the Age Better Team for over 5 years. I’ve witnessed how Age Better in Sheffield has delivered many high-quality initiatives that have helped to identify, highlight and reduce social isolation and loneliness amongst people aged 50 and over in Sheffield. Christmas has always been an important time for Age Better in Sheffield (ABiS), with its emphasis on family, togetherness and sharing. It’s a time of year when feelings of loneliness can be amplified.
During my time on the ABiS project, I have seen how so many of Sheffield’s wonderful organisations, community groups and individuals come together at Christmas time to bring companionship to people who might be facing it alone. In a year when isolation and loneliness have become more prevalent than ever, we will not let the need to stay physically distanced keep us from making connections with those who need it most.
Coronavirus, and the current debate about family get-togethers over Christmas, has brought home to many of us the reality that many people face Christmas alone every year. We know the need for company and a feeling of belonging hides in plain sight in all our communities all year round – as a befriender since April, I’ve become aware of how easy it is for people to lose touch with the outside world, to feel forgotten and not to be able to re-engage. However, this time of year can be particularly difficult for those facing loneliness and isolation. Age Better in Sheffield has, therefore, focused on lifting the burden of loneliness with an annual Christmas lunch for people living alone.
Of course, a single meal doesn’t prevent the problem of loneliness amongst older people in Sheffield. But, it’s a small step in the right direction and is one of the many projects ABiS has been able to fund that is shedding light on the issue. In 2015, the first ABiS Christmas lunch welcomed 75 guests who otherwise would have spent the day in isolation. They came together at two of South Yorkshire Housing Association’s extra-care schemes and, was so popular, it has remained as an annual fixture on the Age Better calendar.
Another year, the Age Better team organised a crowd-funded Christmas lunch and received donations of turkey and all the trimmings from across the city. This was a truly uplifting experience, highlighting what a united and compassionate place Sheffield can be. In more recent times, ABiS partner Ignite Imaginations, has carried the mantle, giving so many people who would have been on their own a shared Christmas (the picture above is from a previous Christmas Meal organised by Ignite Imaginations).
This year, like everything else, things will be a little different. A communal Christmas event won’t be possible, but that hasn’t stopped Ignite Imaginations from doing what they do best – getting creative!! This year they are planning an exciting blend of food, fun and games with a personal touch. A hand-delivered lunch to people’s homes (socially distanced, of course!!), a gift bag and a phone call to say “Merry Christmas” on the day. It’s inspiring, innovative and challenging: and, because it’s happening, loneliness at Christmas will hopefully be less acute for over 300 Sheffield residents. And all of this is only able to happen thanks to a committed and vibrant band of volunteers!
I’ve invited the folk I’ve befriended this year as guests and the response has been so positive. Garrie (pictured to the left) told me:
“This is such good news. It’s brilliant to know that I’m not forgotten and will have something special to look forward to on Christmas day”.
Well, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so let’s tuck into a moment of seasonal joy.