Festive Friends: Doing Our Bit to Reduce Loneliness in Older People

Did you know that loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015) and is worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day? (Holt-Lunstad, 2010).

Loneliness amongst older people is a huge problem in Bristol, so we wanted to do our bit to help people form connections and feel part of the community. We’re delighted to report that for the fourth year in a row, our Festive Friends Christmas event is returning to our community centre in Bristol.

Festive Friends began in 2017, created by one of our then members of staff, Heather Murray.  Heather had worked for many years as a volunteer befriender for older people with Age UK and Contact the Elderly, and the loneliness she discovered in her new friends really struck a chord.  She felt that the St Werburghs area was missing opportunities for more isolated older people to come and take part in their local community, make new friends and learn about the services available for them to use.

It was important that the event was:

  • Completely free, to prevent anybody from being excluded
  • Free of pity or condescension; a positive, judgement-free event
  • A truly luxury event, with excellent food and a buzzing, friendly atmosphere
  • Fully accessible to all, regardless of any physical or mental health needs

Covid didn’t stop us

When the world shut down, we knew that Festive Friends must somehow continue its connection with isolated people in the local community.  Run by an amazing, dynamic team headed up by Goska Ong, Jess Atherton and Camilla MacLaverty we pivoted and created a Covid-safe ‘doorstep delivery’ style service.

Each step of the process was carefully devised to adhere to the very strict guidelines that were in place at the time, which was even more important as we were delivering to the most vulnerable possible age group.  We organised a one-way system for our volunteers to come in, sanitise, receive their bag of food, and deliver it to the guest at their home at a safe distance – close enough to have vital conversation, but far enough away to adhere to guidelines.

Each guest received a full, 3-course meal, plus Christmas cards created by the local school and fresh flowers, donated by a local florist Snowdrop Studio.

And now it’s sprouting wings

Fuelled by the tremendous success of our Covid-safe version of Festive Friends, we managed to hold two more events:

Springtime Festive Friends, which took the form of another doorstep delivery service, feeding over 100 members of the community with a delicious Easter meal

Summer Festive Friends, which returned to its original slot in the Centre, providing a well-needed social event for 50 older people, with food created by Popti & Beast.

Covid is not the only pandemic that continues to affect us, so it’s important that we take loneliness seriously. Every small step makes a huge difference to those who are experiencing feelings of isolation and loneliness, and new connections make dramatic changes in their lives.

If you would like to learn more about Festive Friends, whether it’s as a guest, a volunteer or you would like to donate or sponsor the event, contact us on office@stwerburghs.org.uk or call 0117 955 1351.


Want to recieve updates from us? Sign up for our E-newsletter here: