In 2007, as a local Handybus driver, Caroline Billington was asked if she would drive a group of old ladies to a lunch on Christmas Day. She agreed, little knowing that this would be a journey that would change her life.
As she drove the ladies home after their Christmas lunch certain aspects of their conversation struck her:
- What a fantastic day they had had
- How she wished she could have been part of/contributed to it
- How happy they all were to have met each other so that they could meet and have a cup of tea at anytime during the year.
The following year Caroline volunteered for the whole of Christmas Day and subsequently took part in organising the local lunch before deciding that she wanted to do more. Community Christmas was born in 2011 when she shared her experience to help new organisers establish 2 additional events. During 2012 two more new events were established and the website started to evolve as we listed other events (20) around the country so that they could easily be found by those looking for companionship.
Over the next 5 years the organisation has continued to grow listing 74 events in 2013, 152 in 2014, with the help of our Big Lottery Fund grant we grew to over 300 in 2015 and with the support of Friends of the Elderly in 2016 we saw our listings pass the 500 mark. In 2017 we specifically appreciated the support of Waitrose, Bupa, the Jo Cox Foundation and in 2018 we worked in partnership with Contact the Elderly who will be adopting Community Christmas for the long term during 2019.
We continue to believe that there is no one size fits all and are happy to include pubs setting aside a table for those booking alone as well as community hall events and the 650 listings on our website in 2018 included 82 Bupa homes which open their doors to the public over the Christmas period – some for a Christmas Day lunch and others for longer periods of respite – and 34 McDonalds restaurants for those wanting to see a friendly face in a less organised environment. In addition we knew of another 102 locations offering companionship and happy to take direct enquiries from us.
We continue to work with individuals and partners to motivate and support activities so that as we get closer to Christmas Day we see more people inviting their neighbours in to watch TV with them, groups getting together to go to the local pub for Christmas Day lunch and new organisers taking up the challenge of running a community event. We also hope that this will lead to stronger communities that will support each other throughout the year and we love hearing the stories from around the country. As part of this strategy Contact the Elderly has taken over Community Christmas operations from 1 April 2019 which we hope will extend our impact further still.