Sunday 16th December – Christmas!

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Some images courtesy of The Bishop’s Stortford Independent.

It seems only right that I start this post off by saying a huge thank you to you all for a fantastic year of lunches, support and kindness. Although not being quite yet a year of lunches, the year 2018 has seen us launch our first ever Welbeloved lunch and outgrow our original venue in record speed. It has seen me personally meeting many new faces, and building relationships with local businesses, organisations and individuals, as well as learning of the incredible work other local organisations are doing to combat loneliness in our community. I can’t lie, it has been very stressful and hard at times, but that has so been outweighed by the positive impact The Welbeloved Club has had on so many people, and the support I have received in return from both friends and strangers (who are now friends!).

As many of you will know, our Christmas lunch was provided entirely by the readers of The Bishop’s Stortford Independent. The campaign was the brainchild of Editor Paul Winspear and Editorial Assistant David James, who worked tirelessly all month to ensure the campaign ran as smoothly as possible. On the night of the launch, I don’t think David got to bed until gone 3am! The pledges were coming in so frequently, it was impossible to keep up with them. When Paul first came to me with the idea, I thought it was a fantastic idea, but worried his expectations were a little ambitious. If I’m honest, I thought maybe half our shopping list would be purchased, so I was more than ready to purchase the other half. The campaign went live at 8pm and less than 15 hours later, the whole list had been pledged, with more support coming in thick and fast. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing!

Not only were people pledging items, they were also pledging raffle prizes, money, time as a volunteer and general offers of help. I was absolutely blown away! It didn’t feel right to keep turning offers away, so we decided to invite readers to buy gifts for all our members, and provide a contact so guests could thank them personally. For many, this would be the only present they would receive this Christmas, so it felt right to launch this second mini campaign. We had gifts donated from Churchfield Primary in Enfield, NKD in London, Reed Recruitment in Harlow, Coco’s Bishop’s Stortford, and much more! We had individuals buy and wrap presents themselves, and even a present from a 9 year old ‘Tyler’ from Bishop’s Stortford.

I couldn’t possibly mention everyone individually, but I just have to hold my hands up and say I was totally wrong to doubt how well the campaign would do. We had companies like Hanbury Wealth pay for our turkey, Aaron Fennell of The Marne Inn give us 12 bottles of prosecco, Coco’s Bishop’s Stortford give us lots of gifts, Waitrose hampers provided by the lovely Tracy Whitfield, money donations from individuals, people offer to wrap presents and make up hampers, the list goes on and on! Thank you everyone.

I think it’s safe to say the lunch was a huge success. The hall was alive with chat, laughter and Christmas cheer, and not a scrap was left on the plates! We even had enough mince pies to offer seconds to those who still had room! Our volunteers worked so hard yet again, with more new faces to add to the team. After dinner, guests were treated to a set of beautiful Christmas carols, sang by year 1 and 2 children at Mandeville Primary School. The children had clearly practiced and put on a great show to a room packed with people. For me, it was a lovely example of bringing different generations together, and felt very topical given the success of the recent Channel 4 show, ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’.

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After the campaign launched, I had so many people get in touch for so many different reasons, one being about starting similar ‘kindness’ projects in schools. This is definitely something I would like to look into in the future, given the bags of evidence there is out there to suggest loneliness can be rapidly reduced by bringing generations together.

As the year draws to a close, I want to wish all our supporters a very happy New Year, and thank you once again for everything you have done in keeping The Welbeloved Club going. 2019 is set to be a really exciting year, and I hope to be writing to you all this time next year as a registered UK charity, and to perhaps have expanded even further. Who knows what the future holds! I hope the club has served as an example of what can happen when you invest time (and money!) into something you feel so passionately about. It honestly can be anything – all it needs is drive and a willingness to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be for 90 lonely old folks! The point is you can make a huge difference to something or someone just by putting yourself and your initiative out there.

Happy 2019 everyone, 2018 has been a blast!