‘No need to be alone this Christmas’

Daniel Black, manager, with volunteer Stanley Piri at Common Grounds cafe in Belfast
Daniel Black, manager, with volunteer Stanley Piri at Common Grounds cafe in Belfast

Dozens of volunteers across Northern Ireland are giving up a traditional Christmas Day at home in order to lay on community dinners for people who would otherwise be on their own.

The News Letter has spoken to organisers of such events in Belfast, south Armagh and Coleraine.

This is the eighth year in row that Common Grounds cafe, run by City Church in south Belfast, have joined together to provide the traditional festive meal.

Staffed by volunteers, the event is attended by up to 120 people each year, including nearby residents, refugees, asylum seekers, people living on the streets and families who “just want to be part of the atmosphere”, said cafe manager Daniel Black.

“The response this year has been phenomenal,” he said. “Hundreds of people have offered to volunteer on the day, and others have given us food and treats. Our Facebook post has had over 1,500 likes and we’ve received hundreds of supportive comments.”

A halal option will also be provided for members of the Islamic community (tel:028 90 326 589).

Pat Storey, not the Church of Ireland bishop of the same name, is one of the organisers of a similar dinner in Coleraine. The charity responsible is Vineyard Compassion, run by the Vineyard Church.

“We make an open invitation to anyone who wants to attend,” she told the News Letter. “We are able to arrange transport in the Coleraine, Portrush and Portstewart areas although people from further afield are welcome if they can arrange their own transport. There are no mini-sermons. It is a five-course meal – and of course an appearance by Santa.”

Those who attend are primarily middle-aged men and women, she said (tel:07743 008238).

The faith-based reconciliation charity Crossfire Trust in Darkley, near Keady, is also providing an open house and Christmas dinner (tel: 028 3753 1636)

Director Ian Bothwell says they are setting places for 40 at present.

“There is no charge, it is for everyone in the community who are facing Christmas alone due to beretvement or changes in family circumstances,” he said.

“People can come for morning coffee and stay for lunch or come in the afternoon and stay for tea – or both. It is really about putting some reality back into Christmas – it has become a very selfish family-centred event”.

The Salvation Army at Cregagh Road Belfast, BT69ES is laying on a Christmas dinner (tel 028 90 45 44 66).

The Gateway Club in Newry is providing hospitality from 3-5pm, under the banner “no need to spend Christmas alone”.

The Community Church in Omagh is laying on dinner from 12.30pm at Campsie Crescent, BT79 OAD. Notice is preferred but not essential and there are still spaces available: tel 075 17 95 28 58.

Finally, the Newcastle Public Intervention for Prevention of Suicide and Self-harm group (PIPS) is holding a dinner from 12-3pm at Kilnegan Centre in Castlewellan. Tel 078 45 39 80 49.

• Anyone wishing to attend any of the above dinners is asked, where possible, to give advance notice for planning purposes to the venue in question.

Meanwhile, the Simon Community has launched a smartphone application to help people who fear losing their home; locate organisations that can provide emergency accomodation; refer people to Simon for advice; or to forward en electronic location of someone sleeping rough to the organisation. Those without smartphones can call 0800 171 2222 instead.