As we begin to think about making plans to meet up with friends and family over the festive period, there are thousands of older people who are facing the prospect of spending Christmas alone. This week we launched community Christmas, our free online directory of local festive events and activities taking place across the UK, which are open to local older people who would otherwise be spending Christmas Day alone.
We caught up with Caroline Billington, who founded the initiative, to find out what community Christmas means to her and her hopes for this year.
What does community Christmas mean to you?
I founded Community Christmas after driving some older people to a Christmas lunch and realising what a big difference it made to them, not just on the day itself but in the longer term.
Community Christmas was set up to proactively support those wanting to set up new Christmas day events, make events that are happening already visible, and connect older people with their community. Community Christmas is about providing contact on Christmas day, whether it be a Christmas breakfast, table tennis in a community hall, a film viewing, or tea and cake.
When we launched Community Christmas in 2011, we listed 11 local events and by 2018 this had grown to 650. That makes me very proud.
How do you think the past year has impacted on older people?
This year I have supported older people on the phone with my local Age Concern, delivered meals and wheels to older people and helped at a vaccination centre. What I saw was that whilst some older people want to continue enjoying life and are prepared to take a chance that they may catch Covid this is not the case for everyone.
It seems that, having spent much of 2020 at home and seeing the media portrayal of large events, busy pubs and high streets as well as rising hospital cases, some older people remain scared to go out. They have lost confidence in their ability to socialise or venture out and have sometimes lost mobility. Getting out and seeing that the day-to-day reality in their local community is not what is being portrayed on the TV can be enough to initiate a positive turnaround. For others the impact may be deeper rooted and require more support.
On a more positive note, I have seen an increase in local community connections, with neighbours communicating more, and greater awareness of the support available.
What are your hopes for community Christmas 2021?
I would like to see older people start to rebuild their confidence in connecting with their neighbours and their communities. This may not mean going to a large Christmas lunch, but it might mean that they have a meal delivered, go for a walk or take a different first step to a better 2022.
I also hope that those organising events will embrace what may be the new normal and think more about what can be done to create connections. That they embrace the possible and are not put off by what may appear difficult.
Give the gift of friendship
Half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all and Christmas is a particularly difficult time. Watch our film and find out how can help give more people like Barbara something to look forward to, this Christmas and beyond.
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