Tales from a Croydon Christmas community volunteer

By - Friday 16th January, 2015

Lauren Furey volunteered to serve Christmas dinner at a community centre and left with new zest for life

Photo author’s own.

Every year Shakin’ Stevens reminds us that Christmas is a time of ‘love and understanding’, and he’s right; Christmas is about coming together and bonding with our loved ones, even for just one day. Yet, as we get caught up in the merriment of the season, it’s easy to overlook those who may not be spending Christmas with anyone.

You’ve seen the charity adverts; they usually start in late November and encourage us to donate generously to ensure that an elderly person, in our area, is looked after over the festive period. These pleas often tug at the heartstrings because we all know an old person. We’ve all had, or have, grandparents and we relish their company and their warmth. Yet while organisations such as Contact the Elderly work hard to counter later-life loneliness, the Christmas period is poignant for those who are widowed or have lost friends.

This Christmas, I was given the opportunity to help out at Parchmore Community Centre, part of Parchmore Methodist Church, in Thornton Heath. Parchmore is a wonderful place that offers activities and group events to over 1,700 elderly people each week, and every December it throws a Christmas party for its members.

We set about turning the community centre into a festive grotto

I had been before and so was prepared for the exhausting day ahead. This year’s event did not disappoint. Teamwork was of the utmost importance and, within minutes of walking through the door, we set about decorating the hall, peeling and chopping veg and preparing soft drinks for our guests’ arrival.

The ladies of Parchmore are a thorough bunch and working alongside them felt akin to boot camp but it was absolutely the direction we needed. A lot of work in a limited time frame could have been disastrous without proper guidance and so, with that in mind, we set about turning the community centre into a festive grotto… all to the soundtrack of Now That’s What I Call Christmas.

Photo by Parchmore Community Centre, used with permission.

The hall was decked snowy white with tablecloths and chair covers. Red and gold balloons formed a festive archway around the Christmas tree and purple and gold bows added decorative charm to the seats. The Christmas music continued to play as the first busload of patrons arrived for their lunch.

Everyone was greeted with a glass of either white or red sparkling soft drink (which some people were convinced was actually wine) and ushered into the main hall to take their seat. The Parchmore gang had thoughtfully wrapped presents and written out Christmas cards for everybody in attendance.

Once everyone had settled in, the food was brought out onto a large table beside the piano and arranged into a Christmassy buffet line. There was a choice of a traditional turkey Christmas dinner or salmon wellington with roasted vegetables. Within minutes everyone was seen to and we sat together, eating and sharing stories.

At my table was a lady whose husband had died some years ago. Her neighbour had suggested that she come to Parchmore to meet and spend time with people who were in a similar situation. As she said, with a smile, she’s now “been going for 15 years”.

This is more than a day out – it’s a lifeline

A gentleman said to his friend: “You know, the best decision I ever made was to come to Parchmore. It’s absolutely changed my life”. The table nodded in agreement.

Parchmore wasn’t just a nice day out for these people; it was a life-changing decision that had helped them overcome hard times and loneliness. It is, in many ways, a lifeline.

I heard a fascinating story from a lady who had lived in Thornton Heath during the Second World War. One night, during the Blitz, the family dog would not stop barking and howling, looking out of the the window. Peering out, she saw a faint light travelling at speed across the night sky. Suddenly, she cried for everyone to wake up and get to the air raid shelter in the garden. The family dashed into the bomb shelter. The bomb that was seen soaring across the sky narrowly missed their house and crashed into the house across the road, killing their neighbours instantly. Ann credits the dog with saving their lives.

What struck me so much about the people of Parchmore is their unwavering zest for life. The generations before us bore the brunt of some of history’s biggest disasters and toughest working conditions, yet have come out smiling and with such positivity that it’s really infectious.

The day reminded me of the resilience of the human spirit

Christmas is about overindulging in turkey and chocolates, and about opening presents. It’s even about the TV specials that have us circling pages in the Radio Times. But Christmas, fundamentally, has always been about people and about coming together.

The day spent at Parchmore with people who otherwise may not have spent the festive season with anyone reminded me of the resilience of the human spirit and the warmth of togetherness. Now the Christmas period has come to an end, it’s important that we go forward and recognise the people most important in our lives, of all ages and ensure that they are not forgotten. And whilst Christmas may be a perfect annual milestone to share those moments, it doesn’t need to be restricted to one month of the year; spending quality time with the people in your life can really make someone’s day.

Before I left Parchmore, a guest took me by the hand and said, “You know, Lauren, I shall always think of you”. I believed her and, holding back tears, I reassured her that she would always be fondly thought of. I really hope to see her again when I return to Parchmore.

P.S. The most popular cracker joke at the table was – what did the scarf say to the hat?

I’ll hang around here and you go on ahead.

Lauren Furey

Lauren Furey

I was born in Croydon in 1988 and I've spent my life here, building friendships and experiences that have shaped me as a person. As a Croydon native, I have a big passion for local events, arts, history and culture... and the dearly departed Mexway. I now work as a freelance writer.

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  • Dave_Dadof9Kids

    It looks like Parchmore Community Center was a great location for this gathering and it sounds like everyone had a heartwarming time.

    My father just passed away in September and I know Christmas was a very difficult time for my mother. It was the first time in 52 years she spent Christmas without him.

    I can only imagine how lonely it must be for others who have lost their spouses and don’t have family living nearby.

    My compliments to the author of the article. Your detailed descriptions made me feel present at the event.