HOMELESS, elderly, vulnerable and lonely people rubbed social distanced shoulders at a traditional Christmas Day dinner held at Trowbridge’s old Town Hall.

Around 45 booked in for the two-course lunch organised by the Free Range Cafe run by local businessman Alex Joll, after local charity Company for Christmas decided not to go ahead with its annual meal at County Hall.

He also catered for elderly people in sheltered accommodation in Trowbridge, Melksham and Westbury, with deliveries being made by Mr Joll’s daughter Heidi.

Mr Joll said: “We had the capacity to serve up to 80 people and a few have cancelled, but we have 45 booked in for the three sittings at 12.30pm, 1.30pm and 3pm at the town hall.

“We have given them roast turkey, pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, roast carrots, parsnip and Brussels sprouts with stuffing, cranberry sauce and lashings of gravy.”

For pudding, there was a choice of Christmas pudding or mince pies, and soft drinks were available. Everyone who attended also went away with presents of mince pies and biscuits donated by Trowbridge Wessex Rotary Club.

Wiltshire Council had donated £1,000 towards the cost of the meals, of which £500 will be returned as a justgiving appeal had also raised over £1,000 to provide the free dinners for up to 80 people.

Mr Joll said: “If we have any leftovers, they will be used to make turkey sandwiches and rolls which will be distributed to the soup kitchens over the Christmas period.”

Around 30 volunteers turned up at the town hall to help prepare and serve the meals, including English teacher Julie Taylor, 50, from The Down in Trowbridge.

She said: “I am on my own this year. Both of my daughters have grown up and left home so I thought it would be nice to come out and chat to people and do something worthwhile. I have met quite a lot of nice people so it had been a good thing to do.”

Among those eating were Reverend Barrie Dearlove and his wife, Dorothy, of Trowbridge Breakthrough, which helps and supports people who are homeless.

They had volunteered to help, but with few people attending the first sitting, had been offered a meal.

Rev Dearlove, 82, said: “Normally, we help the homeless and serve up to 60 people but this year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we could not do it.

“So we volunteered to help here but were not needed. It has been great, the meal has been lovely. The vegetables have been fresh and it has been beautifully cooked.”

Dolly Watson, 79, from Furlong Gardens, and Geoffrey Parsons, 70, from Studley Rise, both in Trowbridge, were among those enjoying a meal at the first sitting.

Mrs Watson said: “I have lived in Trowbridge all my life and I did not want to be on my own for Christmas.

“One of my children is working today while the other lives in Swindon. The meal has been good. I have really enjoyed it.”

Mr Parsons had also ventured out because he had not wanted to spend his Christmas alone at home.

“It’s nice to have some company,” said Mr Parsons, who is not married and has no children. “The meal has been very good. It’s the first time that I have been to this cafe at the town hall.”

Just as I was about to leave, two staff turned up from the Amber Foundation, along with six of their 21 residents.

The centre in Bythesea Road, Trowbridge, offers help and support to homeless and unemployed people aged 17-30, including finding them education and employment opportunities.

Centre manager Jennie Rubel, from Bristol, said: “We have 21 residents at the moment but some of them have gone home for today, or a couple of days, and one has gone home for the week.

“Christmas is a difficult time of year for some young people who are homeless. If they have the choice, they would prefer to be with their families, but for some it’s just not possible.

“I am looking forward to the meal. It is a really lovely thing to do.”