The Alexandra in Wimbledon, London, will serve free Christmas dinners to guests spending the 25th December alone to combat loneliness, a scheme the owners started in 2014.
The pub will provide a three course Christmas dinner with all the trimmings plus alcohol to guests and will seat them in small groups so they can make new friends.
How does it work? There are no bookings; people should just show up at the SW19 pub between 12pm-3pm on Christmas Day. No need to live locally. No need to register anything anywhere. You just have to be on your own.
Sarah Dore, who manages the pub with Mick Dore, said: “It started when my husband and I used to offer anyone who’s on their own a drink on Christmas Day, but one year, we had an old gentleman who joined us late in the afternoon, had a drink, and was hovering but didn’t really want to go home, but didn’t want to have another drink either.
“We invited him to stay and have Christmas dinner with us, but he declined, saying that he had somewhere else to go, which he really clearly didn’t. That touched a nerve with us, so rather than just offering a drink, we decided we would, the following year, offer a full Christmas meal.”
A beautiful Christmas
The Christmas day turnout has grown steadily over the years from around 40 customers in its first year to some 150 last year, with guests travelling from the local community but also from further afield.
The range of customers turning up could vary from those in their 20s to those in their 80s. Sarah said: “Naturally you are going to get a lot of older people who may be widowed, or whose family have moved away from London, but last year, we had a student who missed his last train back to Leeds on Christmas Eve join us.”
“We had a young lady that broke up with a boyfriend on Christmas Eve, so she came and joined us here. Quite a few people that are visiting the UK for work and don’t have family here, so they’ve joined us as well.”
Christmas day always proved “beautiful”; it’s Sarah favourite day to work. “When the people arrive, they are a little bit hesitant at the door, they’re not really sure what to expect. Then, they’re wrapped up in this huge warm welcome and given a drink and introduced to people and then they have a lovely meal and chat,” she said.
Each year Sarah was “blown away” by the public’s generosity, who volunteer to help serving food, washing dishes, and keeping people company as well as donating gifts.
What’s more, the pub’s suppliers were “really generous” on Christmas morning in case overwhelming numbers turned up and there were not supplies to stretch to all.
However, she said: “The Christmas dinner is lovely, but if they turned up and we didn’t have a Christmas dinner to hand and all we had was cheese sandwiches, that would be fine. Above all, it’s about the community and the shared experience.”
“It’s about people arriving unsure about what they’re going to walk into and leaving with a big smile on their face.”
“That’s the biggest story of success for us.”