Photo gallery: The spirit of Christmas: Biggest-ever Norwich Open Christmas feeds 450 people

St Andrews hall full of festive cheer for the annual Open Christmas event for the homeless and lonely. Lee Hamilton, Maggie Martin and Ken Creighton.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY St Andrews hall full of festive cheer for the annual Open Christmas event for the homeless and lonely. Lee Hamilton, Maggie Martin and Ken Creighton. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Thursday, December 26, 2013
5:41 PM

Norwich once more showed the true spirit of the season, as more than 450 people celebrated together at Norwich Open Christmas.

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Norwich Open Christmas in numbers

26 large turkeys (donated by Bernard Matthews)

70kg potatoes

70kg parsnips

70kg carrots and Brussels sprouts

Gallons of tea, coffee and soft drinks

Forests of Christmas pudding logs

Norwich once more showed the true spirit of the season, as more than 450 people celebrated together at Norwich Open Christmas.

Outside there was a chill in the air, but inside St Andrew’s Hall there was only warmth, as 125 volunteers laid on a Christmas dinner for some of the city’s most isolated and vulnerable people.

And on the menu, alongside a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, were festive singalongs, Christmas music and friendships old and new.

The free event was the biggest in the 22-year-old history of Norwich Open Christmas, said founder Linda Harper.

St Andrews hall full of festive cheer for the annual Open Christmas event for the homeless and lonely. Victor Goodrum has been coming for years.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY.St Andrews hall full of festive cheer for the annual Open Christmas event for the homeless and lonely. Victor Goodrum has been coming for years. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY.

“It’s not a family Christmas, but we look at all the guests as part of our Christmas family and make them as welcome as possible.

“People have many different reasons for joining us at Christmas, and so do the volunteers.”

The meal is put on for homeless and people isolated by family problems, bereavement or simply having nowhere to go at Christmas.

“Many of our volunteers also come because they have had difficult times in their lives recently and wish to help others. It makes you realise you are very fortunate,” said Mrs Harper.

St Andrews hall full of festive cheer for the annual Open Christmas event for the homeless and lonely. Carol singers entertain the guests.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYSt Andrews hall full of festive cheer for the annual Open Christmas event for the homeless and lonely. Carol singers entertain the guests. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

For some, the day brought respite from social, financial or health problems, and gave them a hot meal and the offer donated clothes or food parcels to see them through until the New Year.

For Victor Goodrum, the longest-serving guest of Open Christmas, the St Andrew’s Hall meal has been a Christmas staple for 16 years.

He said: “I’ve got no family, I live on my own and if I wasn’t here I would be at home managing on a bit of bread and meat - nothing special.

“You can’t beat coming here: this is a good do and I enjoy it. I like the food the best - it’s excellent, and it helps your pension go a bit further.”

St Andrews hall full of festive cheer for the annual Open Christmas event for the homeless and lonely. Jean Ellerton and Hazel Bloomfield.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYSt Andrews hall full of festive cheer for the annual Open Christmas event for the homeless and lonely. Jean Ellerton and Hazel Bloomfield. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Also among the guests was Anthea Crown, of Thorpe St Andrew, who brought her children Luke, 16, and Gemma, 12, for the third time.

She said: “I’m a single mum with two children with special needs, and I’ve lost both my parents recently.

“By coming here, I can mix with people and talk to others. I haven’t got any other options, so I rely on this, but over the years I’ve got to know people here.”

Carlo Schiavi, 49, said that without Open Christmas he would have been spending the day alone.

“I come here to see people and see friends, because most of the time I’m at home. I’d recommend anyone thinking about it to come down and experience it next year.”

Open Christmas was also attended by the Lord Mayor Keith Driver, deputy Lord Mayor James Wright, Sheriff of Norwich Graham Creelman, and Norfolk County Council chairman Hilary Cox.

Mr Driver said: “It’s fantastic. Everyone has been having a great time, and the volunteers have been working so hard.

“It’s what Christmas is all about: getting together with people and enjoying their company.”

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