It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in County Durham

Older people’s housing and care charity The Abbeyfield Society is calling time on loneliness for older people by linking up with a pub company as part of the charity’s annual Companionship at Christmas campaign.

Over 100 people living alone in the Durham area danced and sang along to forties-themed music from the Fenner Sisters before sitting down to a three-course meal with entertainment at The Kingslodge Inn in Durham city.

The event was organised by Abbeyfield in partnership with Age UK County Durham and pub operator The Inn Collection Group in a bid to tackle social isolation experienced by some older people at Christmas and beyond. Figures released by Age UK reveal that 3.6 million people live alone in the UK and that 1.9 million people feel invisible*.

As well as an annual Christmas party, The Kingslodge Inn hosts a monthly lunch club, with Abbeyfield working with The Inn Collection Group and Age UK to roll out further events for older people across the group’s pubs in Northumberland, County Durham, Yorkshire and the Lake District.

Three women chatting whilst wearing Christmas hats

Attending the Christmas event in Durham was 81-year-old Millicent Harrison of Trimdon Village. A former PA, Millicent lives alone and has no immediate family. She said, "I lost my husband 24 years ago, but it just seems like yesterday. When I was widowed, I went out and joined different organisations, it gave me an outlet. I would go on cruises but coming back to an empty house was awful. There was no one to show your pictures to – I don’t know what was worse – going or coming back.

 “The hardest thing is the isolation. My friends are getting older – I live at the top of the hill and I’m the only one of my friends that drives. My neighbours that I have known for years have moved or passed away and these days people text rather than call and I feel isolated.

 “I never remarried – I had the perfect husband. We had no family. We did everything together. I didn’t want anyone else because I had the best.”

Speaking of The Kingslodge Inn event she said, “It’s been wonderful – I can’t think of a better adjective. Superb, exhilarating and meeting new people and making new friends. Having a meal prepared for you is such a treat. By the time you’ve cooked for yourself you don’t feel like eating.”

Gentleman conversing with friends over Christmas lunch

Sean Donkin is managing director of The Inn Collection Group. He said, “Pubs can be like a family for people who live alone. They’re familiar, social spaces with no airs or graces where people know they’ll be made welcome. It really does pull on your heart strings when you hear of the invisible plight so many older people face when they’re living alone. We have customers who come into our inns and our staff may be the only ones they’ll have a physical conversation with for days.

 “We are very proud to be working in partnership with Abbeyfield and Age UK to address the issue of loneliness by using our pubs across the group as hubs to welcome in older people who live alone, whether through events and activities like our lunch club and Christmas party in Durham, training staff to be Dementia Friends and supporting them to identify and make time to chat with people who are on their own.”

Alastair Mulvie is director of fundraising at The Abbeyfield Society. He said, “Pubs are real cornerstones in the community, having long-held a tradition and reputation for being places where you are welcomed in to relax and enjoy the company of a great mix of people in a warm, secure environment. Many are open all day and offer a place where people can come in and meet up with others without the stigma of being alone.

“We are committed to tackling the growing plight of older people living alone, whose lives are blighted by loneliness at Christmas and beyond through bereavement, through the pressures of modern living - where emails, texts and social media is replacing face-to-face contact - and through families often living in different parts of the country.

“Working with pub companies like The Inn Collection Group is helping us to support older people to enjoy actual social connections in their local communities, fostering neighbourliness and a spirit of togetherness which is fundamental to what Abbeyfield does, long after the Christmas cards and tinsel have been packed away.”


To find out more about Companionship at Christmas or to register for events and activities, please contact Abbeyfield on 01727 734144.

* Figure taken from Age UK


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