More than a hundred pensioners will miss their Christmas dinner this year as a tradition established more than 30 years ago comes to an end.
The Lerwick branch of Age Concern, which organised the popular event, has regretfully had to inform pensioners in the town that the free meal will no longer take place.
Branch secretary Wilma Halcrow said a cut-back in the council grant coupled with lack of volunteer cooks has resulted in the move.
The Christmas dinners were funded by the council and cooked by volunteers from the canteens at the town’s two primary schools, Bell’s Brae and Sound, who gave up their Saturdays once a year to do it.
But this year, said Mrs Halcrow, the council grant for the event has dropped from “quite a bit” to just £1,000, which does not cover the costs involved.
As the school canteens were no longer available, the only other option would have been to hire caterers. But that would have been “over the top”, she said. “Age Concern doesn’t have the money.”
Along with the others who enjoyed the meals over the years – they were open to every pensioner in the area – Mrs Halcrow is sorry to see them end. In the event’s heyday the schools played host to gatherings of around 150 at Bell’s Brae and 100 at Sound: “there were waiting lists”.
The meals were served by the Age Concern committee and all the Christmas trimmings of crackers and sweets were laid on, together with a programme. “It was lovely to go out on a Saturday near Christmas for dinner and entertainment.” Numbers had dropped in recent years and last year there were only around 150 in total.
This year the only part of the tradition that will continue is the giving of small gifts to the housebound.
It is not known if the tradition of Christmas dinners could be revived in the future, said Mrs Halcrow – it depends on new people joining the flagging committee. “It’s difficult to get committee members now,” she said, “it was very successful in its day.”
The organisation which in 1978 became part of national charity Age Concern (now known as Age UK), was started in the 1950s by a group of town businessmen, with a committee which included two people from every local church, two from the welfare committee (now Social Work) and others from SWRIs.
The Christmas dinners gradually evolved and the charity also started the Good Companions Club, which will continue as normal between the months of October and April.
The Good Companions started a lunch club at Freefield (the lunches are now run by the council) and organises summer outings. All these events will carry on as normal.