The organiser of Bermondsey’s annual Pensioners’ Christmas Dinner is looking for people to “take up the reins” after forty years of running the show, as “she is getting older than the people she’s serving”.
Coral Newell of the Beormund Community Centre has been spreading cheer for the last four decades to hundreds of elderly residents of SE1 and SE16, but after the birth of her first great-grandchild thinks it’s about time to spend the day at home.
“I’ve done it for 40 years and my family have done it all too. My grandkids have never had a Christmas Day at home! I would like to spend some time with my two-week-old great-grandchild though so I want to reach out to people, to see if there’s anyone who would take up the reins,” said Coral.
“We collect them [the pensioners] in six buses on the day. They then have people waiting for them with coffee, tea, biscuits and cake, which then goes onto a brilliant Christmas dinner.”
The free event has taken place every year since 1977 in the Robens Suite on the 29th floor of Guy’s Hospital Tower, where pensioners are treated to a seasonal soup, a traditional turkey main with all the trimmings and a Christmas pudding, as well as entertainment.
Coral started the dinner after being surprised at one run by People Care Association while she was a Southwark councillor in 1976.
“They came to me to ask me to help them for their Christmas do which covered the whole borough. You would have cried if you saw it. We went along and when we saw what was there we thought it was quite poor.
“So we said in a meeting that we would do it ourselves. Honestly, my daughter Sian was eleven at the time and in tears when she saw how the People’s Care one was.
“They cooked the dinner in the Social Services ovens and were dishing it up like that with no tablecloths or anything. It was worse than a soup kitchen!”
Since then Coral’s dinner has gone from strength to strength each year, with generous donations from the Rotherhithe Charity, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and United St Saviour’s Charity.
“Some of them [the pensioners] have been in their 100s. We had [local resident) Grace Jones come up in her 113th year in 2014. She came for about ten or fifteen years. She never had children and she was an amazing person.
“People come on Christmas Day and it’s sometimes the only day they get out of the house all year. We make it like a family get together, with lots of laughing and dancing.
“We want to pass it over so people will keep doing it. We need people to help out on the day too as we normally have around twenty volunteers. My family keep saying I won’t come away from it. I was going to a long time ago but I went in there and said see you next year!
“It’s really good and a lovely day. They come and collect you and take you up to a lovely site and have a wonderful meal. It’s the small things we do like having the bread rolls heated. It’s just like going to the Savoy.”
If you are interested in getting involved with the pensioners’ meal, please get in touch with Toni or Coral on 020 7237 9313 or firstname.lastname@example.org