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Festive visit raises awareness of Christmas loneliness

No one should be alone at Christmas – that’s the message being delivered by Bristol Sport’s family of charities as they team up to tackle loneliness in older people over the festive period.

The charities were joined by male and female players from Bristol City and Bristol Bears at Monica Wills House, Southville for a morning of market stalls, carols and a range of activities to kick off the second annual Christmas Presence campaign.

Bristol City youngsters George Dowling, Opi Edwards and Aden Baldwin joined their female counterparts, Flo Allen and Katie Robinson at the Bedminster retirement village, while Bristol Bears and Bristol Bears Women were represented by Nick Fenton-Wells, Jack Tovey, Lewis Thiede, Charles Piutau, Kim Oliver, Peter Reakes, Lucy Attwood, Abbie Parsons and Emily Codd.

The campaign, which was launched in November 2017, is aligned with the Bristol Bears Community Foundation’s Golden Memories programme, a weekly initiative that combines reminiscence sessions with light physical activity to improve the lives of people living with dementia or at risk of social isolation.

“With the unbelievable success of last year’s campaign in raising awareness, and the sheer impact of the Christmas Presence festival at Monica Wills House, we’re absolutely delighted to be back here again this year,” said Golden Memories programme manager, Kris Tavender.

“Over the last three years, we have developed our Golden Memories programme to target some of the most vulnerable members of our immediate neighbourhood.

“The key message is around tackling loneliness and social isolation at Christmas. It’s about making contact with people and touching base with them – people you may know, or people you may not know, it’s giving everyone a chance to speak to, and be around, people at Christmas.

“We’ve been massively blessed today with the presence of our professional athletes and our community teams from across the Bristol Sport family. People aren’t here because it’s their jobs, they are here because they have a true heart for what we do.

“The Bristol Bears players here have held their hands up and said they are interested in our Golden Memories programme and the challenges that the individuals within that programme face – and they’ve come down today and backed up their words with their hearts.”

As well as conversations over a cup of tea and a biscuit, the players also joined the residents in a singing Christmas carols alongside a choir from Warmley Park School.

And once the singing had finished, it was straight into a whole host of light physical activities for the sporting stars, with New Age Kurling, boccia, quoits and board games adding some friendly competition to the morning’s events.

“It’s been a fantastic experience and a real eye-opener for all of us,” said Bristol Bears prop, Lewis Thiede.

“We’ve had a wonderful time down here this morning, playing games with the residents and also just chatting with them - they’ve got some great stories.

“But for us to be able to have even the smallest impact on their lives, it’s a real privilege and I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to come here today.”

The festival marked the beginning of the campaign, which also aims to leave a legacy over the Christmas period with a number of more intimate follow-up visits to St Monica’s Trust sites across the city.

Students from Bristol City Community Trust’s Education Programme will join corporate volunteers from EY’s Bristol office at these visits, as the Community Trust’s CEO, Dan White, explains: “It’s great to be here today and represent the Community Trust, but it’s important to recognise that this Christmas period is longer than just one day.

“As charities, it’s really important for us to support the local community throughout that Christmas period, so we’ve got students from our Education Programme who will be visiting the Bristol Bears Community Foundation’s Golden Memories programme to support those older people going forward.

“They will be going out, playing games and trying to reduce loneliness. They are all enrolled with us full time at Ashton Gate Stadium and they’ve got time in which they are able to volunteer and earn rewards for doing so, as part of their volunteering for employment programme.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to make a difference and they are really looking forward to it.”