Small things that make a big difference
By Kirsty Campbell, Programmes Manager
Every December we award grants from our Festive Fund towards the cost of activities that help isolated people to feel a bit more connected around the Christmas period – it’s one of our favourite things.
This year, some of the team at Somerset Community Foundation offered to help a bit more by volunteering their time at one of the funded festive events. I asked the Crispin Hall Trust in Street if they would be willing to have me as a volunteer at their community Christmas lunch and was delighted when they agreed!
The Crispin Hall Trust operates both the Crispin Community Centre and Crispin Hall in the village of Street. The community centre is a community hub with lots of activities and classes including coffee mornings, Tai Chi classes, Art Group, Craft Club and the very popular Lunch Club. They also run a soup kitchen every Wednesday offering free soup and rolls, and a monthly Sunday community lunch.
On Sunday 4 December I donned my Christmas jumper and headed over to the Crispin Community Centre to help. Whilst I’ve had a variety of volunteer roles in my time, assisting with meal preparation is a new one, and I was in awe at the ability of the volunteers to prepare such a fantastic meal for so many (we served just over 60 people). Grating, chopping and sauce stirring done, I moved on to welcoming the guests, helping some with mobility problems to their seats, whilst having a chat at the same time.
Next it was all hands on deck to dish up! And with the meals safely served (phew!), I sat down to enjoy the good food and great company of the guests, all of whom made me feel very welcome.
Before I knew it, it was time for me to roll up my sleeves for washing up duty and tidying, all done with a smile on my face that matched the other volunteers’ and guests’!
It was such a rewarding experience, but I particularly enjoyed my conversations with the volunteers – they worked so hard to make sure everyone had an enjoyable time. The majority of guests were older people and it was clear how much they were enjoying this low-cost time out for a great meal, conversation, and just being around other people.
A couple of guests commented that they don’t have family nearby and were often alone, and that they really look forward to their community meal each month. Some also talked about other difficulties such as always feeling cold no matter how they tried to warm up. This really brought home the difficulties that so many older people face, and just how important community is – including the chance to have a hot meal and feel part of something.
Lunch regulars Joan and Mary said: “We like coming to the Sunday lunch for the company as Sunday is quite a lonely day. We like the food and meeting up with friends. Yesterday, a lady came for the first time and sat next to us. We liked that we could chat with her. She really enjoyed it and is going to come again.”
Volunteer Mo said: “Volunteering at our Sunday lunches adds a new dimension to my social life. I feel I serve a purpose as well as enjoying myself; I’m able to give something back in return for all I receive. I enjoy my meal after helping out, and it’s always with great company.”
Michaela, Crispin Community Centre Manager, said: “It’s great to be able to offer a social meeting on a Sunday – which is notoriously a lonely day for many older people. We are lucky to have a diverse group of committed and enthusiastic volunteers, including some young people from the local secondary school. Our guests always tell me that they enjoy the lunch and its lovely to see everyone, including the volunteers, enjoying a chat around the dinner table.
The lunch takes a lot of organising from menu writing, shopping, prepping, cooking and of course the washing up! We wouldn’t be able to provide it without the support of around 15 volunteers each month. I am very grateful to each and every one.”
Volunteers are vital in helping support communities, but as most voluntary groups know, they can be hard to find. Through our work at SCF we have noticed that older people’s friendship clubs have been hit particularly hard as many have older members who run them and are finding it difficult to continue. I would encourage anyone with a bit of spare time to volunteer – it really does make a big difference, and it’s such a rewarding experience – I can say that first-hand!
I’d like to say thanks so much to Michaela, the Sunday community lunch volunteers and guests for making it such a memorable day. If you’re interested in volunteering on a regular basis, you can find a list of volunteering opportunities at the following websites: