Jan Cox has discovered the secret of the perfect old-fashioned Christmas – giving the gift of her time.
She’s among the one in five adults in the UK who will be volunteering this festive season.
Collectively, they will donate 50 million hours of their time to help others have a Christmas to enjoy.
Royal Voluntary Service centre volunteer Jan, 69, said: “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.”
Helping older people at Christmas is the most popular choice for people aiming to volunteer their time, to research by the Royal Voluntary Service. And it’s much-needed as last year the charity identified that almost 280,000 older people were spending Christmas alone.
This year, the charity has discovered that one in ten people are inviting older neighbours to join their family celebrations. A further 21 per cent of people surveyed said they would love to help an older lonely neighbour but were unsure of how to go about it.
Catherine Johnstone CBE, chief executive of Royal Voluntary Service, said: “It is heartwarming 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.”
The loneliest time of year
TV personality Phillip Schofield, an ambassador for the charity, urged people to look out for their older neighbours: “ For most of us, the festive season is a time of celebration and a chance to spend time and catch up with friends and family.
“It’s hard to imagine that for so many older people, Christmas is actually the loneliest time of the year.
“We urge everyone to think about their older neighbours and the small acts they can do to bring some Christmas cheer.
“Just popping in to see someone for a mince pie or helping them get out for a festive event or do a spot of Christmas shopping can make all the difference.”
Jan, who volunteers in Banbury, is looking forward to her Christmas Day serving up lunch, organising a raffle and singing Christmas songs with an “extended family” of 40 who will spend the day at her local centre. “My role will be to get everything set up, but I will 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.”
Jan, 69, is one of the 38 per cent of festive helpers who volunteer on Christmas Day itself, according to the Royal Voluntary Service.
It’s not just the elderly who big-hearted members of the community are keen to help at Christmas, according to the charity.
Some 54 per cent of volunteers are keen to help young people and children at what should be a special time of year for them.
The homeless and those with mental health problems are also high up on the list of people that more fortunate people want to help at Christmas.
Finally, extending the hand of friendship to refugees is something may of us are keen to do at Christmas.
For those for whom the festive season becomes too much to bear, Samaritans volunteers will be on hand for a staggering 123,000 hours over the holiday to listen to anyone having a tough time.
More than 11,000 volunteers across the UK and Ireland will be working shifts for the charity to ensure its helpline is open round the clock, even on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Samaritans was there for Michael: “There is an expectation across society that Christmas is a great time of the year, everyone should be having fun. And I was trying, but I just couldn’t. All I wanted to do was hide under a duvet and cry. It was awful. With Samaritans, there was this realisation that you could phone them, and they wouldn’t judge you. They would let you express what you were going though and help you realise that it was ok to be having a bad time, even at Christmas.”
Samaritans’ volunteer Rosie Campbell has been on shift on Christmas Day: “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, for whatever reason, it can be a lot worse for you on a day when it feels like everyone else is celebrating. I’m lucky that my Christmas is filled with people and good things. Breaking with tradition and being there on Christmas Day for others is a real privilege.”