Excessive consumerism in the long run up to Christmas (some retailers began the hard sell of Christmas merchandise as early as October!) can make it all too easy to forget that Christmas is not just about spending money on presents; it is also about spending time with people.
Research by voluntary service charity, Royal Voluntary Service, finds that one in five adults in the UK intend to volunteer to help others this festive season, with 38% of those intending to volunteer on Christmas Day itself. Collectively, this will result in 50 million hours being donated to good causes.
The findings identify a number of causes people would like to support over the festive period, including supporting children and young people, helping the homeless, working on mental health projects and aiding refugees and asylum seekers. But the most popular cause was helping older people, with 59% saying they hope to donate their time to support older people over the festive period.
The goodwill and desire to support older people over Christmas comes at a time when it is much needed – last year, research by the charity identified that almost 280,000 older people were spending Christmas Day alone.
Catherine Johnstone CBE, chief executive of Royal Voluntary Service said: “It is heart-warming to hear that so many people are planning to gift their time to supporting others in their community. The festive period can be a very difficult time for many people, particularly those in later life, who for whatever reason find themselves alone this Christmas. We believe more can be done in the community to help combat loneliness and isolation amongst older people, not just at Christmas, but all year round.”
69 year old, Jan Cox, will be gifting her time on Christmas Day to help out at a lunch for older people at Royal Voluntary Service’s centre in Banbury. Jan says: “This will be the third year I have volunteered to help with the lunch on Christmas Day. I really enjoy it and feel very happy there – it’s a proper old-fashioned Christmas. Around 40 people came last year and we are expecting similar numbers this Christmas. Many of these older people would be on their own on Christmas Day if it wasn’t for the centre. As well as serving a delicious lunch, we also sing a lot of traditional Christmas songs, hand out presents and do a raffle. My role will be to help get everything set up, but I will also enjoy having chats with all the diners and will be spending most of the day there. Volunteering on Christmas Day is something I really love doing and it’s fantastic to see the happy faces on all who come.”
This year, nearly one in 10 people are inviting their older neighbours to join their Christmas celebrations. Others want to help but simply don’t know how – a fifth of the public said they would like to help an older neighbour who is lonely, but are unsure how to go about it.
If you would like to volunteer, you can visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk or call 0845 608 0122.
If you are unable to commit to volunteering formally this Christmas, there are still lots of ways to help your neighbours who may be older and alone; you don’t have to give a huge amount of time to make a difference. For instance you could:
- Invite them to spend a few hours with you and your family over the Christmas period, or pop in to see them for a cup of tea and a mince pie
- Find out if there are any events for older people happening locally, for example, a festive community lunch club and encourage an older neighbour to go. You could also offer to go with them or help them to get there. Some events taking place on Christmas Day for older people are listed on www.communitychristmas.org.uk
- Make a short phone call to an older neighbour or relative on Christmas Day just to ask how they are and spread some cheer
- Make someone a Christmas dinner in their home, or take them some festive food
- Decorate someone’s house with Christmas decorations or fill their fridge with Christmas treats
- Check in on an older neighbour to ensure they have the essentials (milk, bread etc.) needed to keep them going until the shops reopen
- Royal Voluntary Service will continue to support older people in your community and if you wish to make a donation to support our work you can visit https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/donate. All donations gratefully received.