East Devon volunteer reflects on community event

PUBLISHED: 07:00 21 January 2018 | UPDATED: 08:58 24 January 2018

Emma and Lynn Donovan are putting on a Christmas lunch at St Teresa's hall in Sidmouth. Ref shr 50 17TI 5241. Picture: Terry Ife

Emma and Lynn Donovan are putting on a Christmas lunch at St Teresa's hall in Sidmouth. Ref shr 50 17TI 5241. Picture: Terry Ife

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Nine months in the making, a community Christmas lunch takes some organisation. Emma Donovan spoke about what is involved.

Lynn Donovan working hardat the Christmas lunch at St Teresa's hall in Sidmouth. Ref shr 50 17TI 5245. Picture: Terry IfeLynn Donovan working hardat the Christmas lunch at St Teresa's hall in Sidmouth. Ref shr 50 17TI 5245. Picture: Terry Ife

It is late afternoon on December 25 and the volunteers and organiser of Sidmouth’s Community Christmas lunch are packing away after a successful festive filled day.

It has been nine months in the making, with the aim being to bring together those who would otherwise be alone at Christmas.

Emma Donovan and her family welcomed 90 people, comprising 50 guests and 40 volunteers, to join them for lunch and socialising in St Teresa’s Hall.

Guest arrived from 11am and enjoyed some time chatting and taking part in a quiz before lunch was served. Crackers were pulled, Christmas hats worn with pride, before settling down for an afternoon of entertainment.

Emma Donovan is getting a helping hand at the Christmas lunch at St Teresa's hall in Sidmouth. Ref shr 50 17TI 5248. Picture: Terry IfeEmma Donovan is getting a helping hand at the Christmas lunch at St Teresa's hall in Sidmouth. Ref shr 50 17TI 5248. Picture: Terry Ife

It finished with mince pies and the Queen’s speech before drivers delivered guests home.

Emma, 38, took over the event from founders Angie and Mick Carney, who began it six years ago, and enlisted the help of her mum, dad and brother for the day.

Using her background in event management, Emma has juggled organising the lunch with the running of the town’s late-night shopping and says

it is because she is passionate about doing things for the community.

Attendees at the Sidmouth Community Christmas lunch in 2016 raise a glass. Picture: Angie CarneyAttendees at the Sidmouth Community Christmas lunch in 2016 raise a glass. Picture: Angie Carney

This year Emma had to turn volunteers away after being inundated with a large number offering to give up their time on the day.

Emma, who moved to Sidmouth in 2014, said: “It’s exactly the thing that a place like Sidmouth needs and it’s great what Angie and Mick did. There are so many people that are alone.

“I do like Christmas and I am lucky to have a family. I know how precious it is and I wouldn’t want someone to not experience that.

“When I was on my own I used to be really down; you would see on Facebook people going out and I used to be in the house.

Guests enjoy Sidmouth's first community Christmas Day lunch in 2011, organised by Angie and Mick CarneyGuests enjoy Sidmouth's first community Christmas Day lunch in 2011, organised by Angie and Mick Carney

“Our family is 100 times the size this year.

“If we can cook a bit of meat and veg and that makes people happy that is the main thing.”

She held a similar lunch back in the summer and invited guests and volunteers of previous meals so she could introduce herself.

She also hopes to hold another event next year and expand it.

Emma said: “If they were going to come and spend Christmas with me they should meet me first!”

Giving her a hand on the day was mum Lynn and dad Chris, using their catering experience to prepare the banquet.

Along with Emma’s brother Jeremy, the Donovans spent Christmas Eve grabbing last-minute needed items and preparing vegetables.

They were supported by local businesses that donated raffle prizes and produce, including vegetables from Winchesters and meat cooked and delivered by Haymans Butchers.

The meal costs between £400 and £450 to put on and relies on donations to fund it. Emma says the event tries to have enough in the kitty to fund the next year’s lunch.

Each guest and volunteer received a Jute shopping bag containing a range of goodies, including a small Christmas pudding, chocolate coins, a candy cane, a notebook and a photo album.

Looking ahead, Emma is planning more summer events and looking to team up with Christmas lunch organisers in the area to help with their preparations for 2018.

“If we all get together, share ideas and we put in orders together we could get an even better deal.”

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