Syrians enjoy Belfast craic at festive dinner

The free Christmas Day meal at Common Grounds cafe in south Belfast attracted people from various backgrounds
The free Christmas Day meal at Common Grounds cafe in south Belfast attracted people from various backgrounds

A family of Syrian refugees were among those who attended an annual Christmas meal this year – complete with Halal turkey.

They were among more than 100 people – from long-established locals to new arrivals – who availed of the free food at Common Grounds cafe in Belfast.

Common Grounds cafe on Christmas Day

Common Grounds cafe on Christmas Day

The cafe is linked to City Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation based in the Holylands area in the south of the city.

The cafe opened in 2004 and its annual Christmas Day meal has been served for the last nine years.

This year it provided 112 traditional yuletide meals between noon and 3pm, with much of the food obtained via donations, and then cooked by volunteers.

Church member Darren Vaughan, who is also a voluntary director of the cafe, said it is their intention to keep it going as long as the cafe remains open.

Common Grounds cafe on Christmas Day

Common Grounds cafe on Christmas Day

Asked what had changed since they first started the Christmas meal scheme, he said: “There’s definitely more people coming from abroad. We’re currently seeing a lot more people who are coming who are new to Belfast, who are not local.”

The idea was dreamed up as a way of catering to people who may have otherwise been lonely at Christmas.

A number of those who attend are people from the area who “are basically on their own at Christmas, or living at some of the local hostels”.

Among those dining with them this year were people from as far apart as Nigeria, Mongolia and Iran, as well as a Syrian family.

South Belfast man George Broderick attending the event

South Belfast man George Broderick attending the event

Asked what the Syrians made of it, he said: “They had a fantastic time, they were really enjoying it. I’m not sure if they come from a Christian or Muslim background, but we did provide a Halal option too in terms of the turkey.”

Halal meat is eaten by Muslims, and should be slaughtered in a fashion which involves a single cut to an animal’s throat, accompanied by a religious blessing.

The whole event costs the cafe about £450 to stage.

Despite taking place on Christmas Day, they had no shortage of helpers who were serving and washing up.

“It’s a difficult enough job on Christmas Day to give up a few hours like that,” he said.

“As always we have to turn away volunteers because we have so many.”

The cafe donates all its profits to charity, and the 2015 profits are set to go to the South Belfast Foodbank, as well as a weekly gathering which the cafe hosts called the Belfast Friendship Club.

The cafe has donated about £60,000 since it opened.