Now THIS is the true spirit of Christmas...
It’s amazing what can happen when you start with a tea party, as occupational therapist Amy Perrin found out.
Three years ago, Amy was volunteering with a monthly tea party group for the elderly, and found out that three of the people who used the service didn’t have anywhere to go at Christmas.
“I thought I’d make a few phone calls for them,” she explains. “But I couldn’t find anywhere for them to go except homeless shelters, so I decided I’d take those three people out to a nice restaurant on Christmas Day and they were delighted.”
Some of Amy’s colleagues then told her they were worried about their patients spending Christmas alone too, and asked if they could join the group. “It ended up being 18 people!” she says.
“I roped in a few friends, we went out to a restaurant and had a great time. I didn’t think much more of it until I came back from work one day and I could barely open my front door for all of these letters and cards which said what an amazing time they had, and it had been life changing. I cried my heart out and thought, ‘crikey, this has got to continue!’”
And so, in 2013, Marmalade Trust was born. Amy formally registered it as a charity, and the following year her Christmas meal group had increased to 30 people.
A recent poll by the mental health charity Mind predicted that one in 20 people over 65 – that's 580,000 people, according to the ONS's latest population data – will spend Christmas alone.
The number of people Marmalade Trust is helping keeps going up. In 2015, there were 60 people having dinner together, and this year, the number has increased again to 90.
Amy’s had to find more venues and volunteers around the Bristol area, where she and the charity are based.
The charity has grown, but Amy's kept her hands-on role, even cutting down her working hours to dedicate more time to running Marmalade Trust.
“We’ve got 90 people that would otherwise be on their own on Christmas Day, and they’re going to find new friendships,” she says. “Nothing trumps that feeling.”
Freda, who's been helped by Marmalade Trust since the start, getting into the festive spirit
Decemeber is Marmalade Trust's busiest time, and Amy sends out her team of volunteers to make sure Bristol's OAPs know about all the events and clubs they could join on Christmas Day if they’re facing the prospect of spending it alone.
At the beginning, Amy roped in her friends and colleagues to help, but as Marmalade Trust has grown, so has its army of volunteers.
“On Christmas Day, we have volunteers who are on their own – younger women who are separated and their children are going to their partners for the first time,” explains Amy.
“We have families who say ‘my children are losing the value of what Christmas is’ and they really enjoyed getting to know the [elderly] person in the month before. Some of them buy them presents, and our volunteers come back time and time again.”
Amy and other Marmalade Trust volunteers
As well as bringing cheer and company to the Christmases of Bristol’s elderly, Amy has also struck up a special friendship with Freda, one of the Marmalade Trust service users.
“Freda is someone I knew from my tea party before, and she’s one of the reasons I started this.” Amy says. “I can see the change in her – she’s evolved her confidence.
"She’d spent many Christmases on her own and now she feels very much part of things again. She does so much more and she looks healthier and happier.”
It’s no stretch to say that Amy has changed people’s lives. “When the invites [for this year’s dinner] came through, I had about 15 phone calls from people just wanting to tell me how excited they were,” she says. “Those moments are just lovely.”