Kenny and Carol Best are spending their Christmas Day volunteering with Graih, serving dinner to people who are homeless.
Graih runs a drop-in centre throughout the year at the Alpha Centre, on Broadway, where a team of dedicated volunteers and helpers, like Carol and Kenny, provide hot food, a shower and clothing if needed.
Offering a hot meal and the chance to sit down round a table with others gives Graih’s volunteers the chance to build relationships with the people they are trying to help.
Around half will have problems with chronic substance abuse, ranging from alcohol to illegal or prescription drugs. The other half will be suffering from mental health problems – depression, schizophrenia, psychosis and complex personality disorders.
Kenny was a social worker for 30 years, working with children and families, but even he felt daunted when he first met some of the people who seek help at Graih.
He said; ‘I was very nervous meeting these guys because they were streetwise, they live on the streets, they have done for years, and some of them had very violent reputations. It was a bit daunting, the first month or two, and they were wary of us as well. But gradually, they became friends.’
And there have been successes: some former clients have managed to break the cycle of addiction and a couple have even become volunteer helpers themselves.
On Christmas Day, Graih volunteers will be able to use the large kitchen at next door Broadway Baptist Church to prepare the festive meal. By the time everyone is at the 10.30am service, the turkey will already be cooking in the oven.
They have no idea in advance how many people will turn up for Christmas dinner. Sometimes, the police will find people on the streets and bring them.
One year, Kenny and Carol recall, they actually opened their own home for Christmas Day and a couple of the other volunteers helped them to cook a meal for anyone who turned up.
Kenny said: ‘At the time, our son was about 19 or 20 and living at home. Four or five guys from Graih turned up, all on their best behaviour and dressed as best as they could. We sat round the table for about three hours and they told stories and jokes and my son, even now, would say that was the best Christmas we’ve ever had and he laughed till his jaw hurt!’
And Carol added a message for this year from all the volunteers at Graih was: ‘You don’t have to be on your own at Christmas if you don’t want to. You don’t have to sit at home and drink - you can come and have a good laugh with us!’