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Open Christmases feed hundreds in Norfolk

Hundreds of Norfolk people, who would otherwise hOpenXmas09cave been spending Christmas alone, packed into Open Christmas events in Norwich and Great Yarmouth, thanks to dedicated volunteers.
St Andrew's Hall, in Norwich, and the Marina Centre in Yarmouth provided a free Christmas dinner and tea, entertainment, food parcels, clothing and a warm welcome on Christmas Day, for those on their own or homeless.
One of the Norwich organisers, Kevin Timewell-Read, said: “Numbers were slightly down on 2008 with approximately 350 meals being served through the day. With guests coming and going as they please, it is likely that we entertained over 400.
“Initial concerns that ice on untreated roads might make life difficult for our drivers were allayed as the ice had melted by the time they set off to collect the guests. Our security team reported few incidents and feedback from guests and volunteers was positive. A first time volunteer posted on her Twitter feed that she had had ‘an amazing day’.”
OpenXmas09aThe food, which includes a traditional turkey dinner and vegetarian option, is prepared on Christmas Eve at Norwich City College, which lends out its kitchens every year for the event. Cambridge Catering Company also donates crockery and cutlery.

People invited range from the homeless to those who are on a very low income or pension. There are also people who have been discharged from hospital, or released from prison immediately before Christmas.

Graham Wray, 59, works as a street pastor in Norwich and this was his first time helping out as a volunteer at Norwich Open Christmas.

He said: “I was out on the streets on Christmas Eve looking out for some of the vulnerable and telling them about Norwich Open Christmas, so I am hoping to see some of them here. I have also seen a lot of faces here from people I see quite a lot while working as a street pastor.

OpenXmas09b“I think Norwich Open Christmas is about giving that little bit extra care and showing there are people who are willing to give their time to make other people's lives better.”

It was party time at Great Yarmouth's Marina Centre on Christmas Day as nearly 300 people enjoyed the town's 13th Open Christmas.

Organiser Mike Hope, 69, who launched Open Christmas in Norwich 17 years ago, once again cheerfully gave up his family Christmas for a much bigger family of lonely people.

The retired IBM manager, who is aided by his wife Rosie, said: “Anyone who does not have a normal family Christmas is welcome. We get a lot of elderly people living on their own, people short of money, young people with drug problems and some with mental health problems.

“We also see people who have recently been through divorce or bereavement and are on their own.”
Article extracts from EDP24
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By courtesy of Network Norwich and Norfolk
Pictures by Peter Ryan