South Ribble trio hosting free Christmas dinners for lonely older people
A South Ribble trio is hosting free Christmas dinners for older people who are lonely.
Karen Sutton, Lewis Buller and Karen Peddie are aiming to feed more than 60 diners at the Blue Anchor pub in Bretherton on Christmas Day.
The trio organise a project called Find a Friend Christmas Dinner, which is hosting its fifth annual lunch.
"Loneliness is the worst thing going. Most days you can cope but Christmas Day is the worst time to be alone. No-one should on their own," said Karen Sutton.
"One of our guests hasn't spoken to anyone since October. It's sad. Another man didn't think he'd fit the criteria because he has family down South who he'd see on Boxing Day but he'd still be alone before that.
"Some of our volunteers would be on their own on Christmas Day too while one woman has asked to bring along her children so she can show them the real meaning of Christmas. It affects everyone differently."
The 60-year-old, of Clayton Brook, added: "There was a moment last year that still brings a tear to my eye. Our volunteers were helping people out of the mini buses outside the church hall when an old man was walking by on his own. He stopped to ask what was going on and we asked him what he was doing that day and he said he was just going for a walk.
"He was alone so we invited him in and the weird thing is, we'd set up one too many places the night before. It was like it was meant to be.
"And he had a great time. He was the first one up on the dance floor, bless him, and he went home with a big hamper."
Lewis Buller started the scheme five years ago when he put a post on Facebook asking people who were lonely during the festive period if they'd be interested in a community meal.
Lewis said: "It kind of spiralled. I just put a post out saying that anyone who was lonely could come spend Christmas with me and it grew from there by accident."
He received so much interest that he began asking for food donations from the public. He also arranged for a taxi to pick diners up from their homes and take them to the event.
When Karen Sutton saw the post while on holiday, she messaged Lewis on Facebook to offer to pay £70 for the taxi.
Karen Peddie was then recruited as one of the very first bus drivers to pick guests up and take them home.
Since then, they've gone from cooking for 11 people in St Paul's Church in Farington Moss to feeding more than 60 people, with all the food provided by the Blue Anchor.
"Every year the event grows and we've become so well-known around the area," Karen added.
"We're like ducks in a pond paddling like mad but on the surface we look calm. Lots of hard work goes into it and we're all very passionate about it."
The project has become so well-loved that it was nominated for a BBC Radio Lancashire Community Heroes Award earlier this year and competed against more than 1,000 entrants to reach the top four.
Commenting on the project's popularity, Karen added: "Our guests cannot wait for this year's event. Some ring Lewis in August to ask if he's put them down for dinner. It's definitely helped them make new friends."
Guests will be entertained with a tombola, singer and games of Bingo, and will go home with a big gift hamper provided by Leyland Round Table.
To drop off gifts, please visit N:Hair:G salon in Leyland or to donate money see https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/findafriendxmasdinner?utm_term=Gr6V49KdQ
Or to volunteer as a driver or nominate someone for a Christmas dinner, search for Find a Friend Christmas Dinner on Facebook.