Sheffield’s ‘Mrs Christmas’ puts on festive dinner for hundreds facing festive season alone

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas. Santa with Gloria Stewart with Peter
Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas. Santa with Gloria Stewart with Peter
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Sheffield’s Mrs Christmas has marked a decade of putting on festive parties for lonely older people in the city with a special celebration for hundreds of grateful guests.

Gloria Stewart has been arranging the special ‘Home Alone’ parties for 10 years following a chance conversation with an elderly lady in hospital who was facing Christmas on her own.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas. Ronald Lodd and Joan Dawson pull a cracker

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas. Ronald Lodd and Joan Dawson pull a cracker

“I was always brought up to try and do something nice for people,” she said.

“I’m a millionaire not in terms of money but in terms of friendship.”

It has grown over the past 10 years from an initial 87 guests to attracting hundreds of people from across Sheffield and South Yorkshire.

More than 400 people attended this year’s party at the Niagara Conference and Leisure Centre, with guests getting a Christmas dinner and being entertained by a children’s choir from St Mary’s Primary School in High Green.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas. Gloria Stewart with Lord Mayor of Sheffield Denise Fox

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas. Gloria Stewart with Lord Mayor of Sheffield Denise Fox

Gloria, aged 67, from Ecclesfield, has spent her life helping people, having worked as a care assistant and a hospital support worker.

She said she is lucky enough to have a fantastic family and wants others to feel loved at this time of year.

Gloria said: “It has been going for 10 years.

“I took a relative to hospital, just routine, and sat next to a lady and said to make conversation ‘Are you looking forward to Christmas?’

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.Luncheon volunteers with the Mayor of Sheffield Denise Fox

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.Luncheon volunteers with the Mayor of Sheffield Denise Fox

“She said ‘no’. She said she had daughters but was lucky to get a Christmas card.

“From there, I asked various people in the waiting room and I was surprised at how many people there were lonely.

“She just planted a seed for me. I thought I could help one person but there are a lot more people out there I could make a difference for.”

The first event took place at the Civil Service club on Green Lane in Ecclesfield and Gloria said she initially thought it would be a one-off.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.

“I was very nervous about it. But everybody received a token gift and their faces said it all,” she said.

“When I got home, people were saying can we book again for next year?”

Gloria said there are many people out there facing Christmas alone.

“Family life doesn’t really exist so much any more – everybody is out working with mortgages to pay,” she said.

“Parents can be last on the list, especially when they have lost their partner.”

One of the regular guests at the event is 76-year-old Peter Lewis, a musician who writes a different song for the party each year.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas. Marjorie Pugh and Irene Lindley

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas. Marjorie Pugh and Irene Lindley

Peter, from Aston cum Aughton, said he had first started attending the Home Alone events in 2010, the year in which he lost his wife and son.

He said the event has helped to change his life.

“There are so many good things about it,” he said.

“It gets you out of the house at Christmas and you haven’t got this awful thing about what I’m going to be doing at Christmas.

“You get to meet lovely people of a similar age. It is wonderful to be connected.”

Gloria said the event takes around 10 weeks to plan but all the hard work is worth it seeing what it means to people.

“It is like planning a wedding without any money,” she said.

“At the end of it, I get a lump in my throat. I’m not a bright button but everything I do, I do it from my heart.”

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.

Christmas lunch at the Niagara conference centre for people who live alone and feel isolated over Christmas.

98 year old Rhoda Lockwood with Sharon Pearson-Turner lunch volunteer

98 year old Rhoda Lockwood with Sharon Pearson-Turner lunch volunteer