Leadgate Corps volunteers cook Christmas meals for community

published on 20 Dec 2023

Leadgate volunteers
Volunteers with Captain Sarah

A Salvation Army café is providing a ‘most wonderful time’ to help tackle isolation and loneliness this festive season by hosting a Christmas dinner and cooking turkey and all the trimmings for 30 people at a nearby residential housing complex. 

The Nice Bites Café, which runs every Tuesday at Leadgate Salvation Army, has seen three times the number of people visit for food and chat than it did a year ago as isolation, loneliness and the cost of living affect more people in County Durham.

Run by volunteers, the church and charity in Green Street provides a £3 two-course meal or £4 three-course meal as well as takeaways for up to 80 people a week. 

This Christmas, they hosted a Christmas dinner for their customers and cooked for residents at a local retirement housing complex so that those unable to get out and about did not miss out.

Clare, who has volunteered in the café on and off since the 1990s, said of the café’s Christmas meal: “We do turkey with all the trimmings, a Christmas pudding or gateaux followed by mince pies and After Eight mints. For some that might be the only Christmas dinner they will have especially if they are on their own as they will not cook one just for themselves. 

Leadgate cafe customers
Jean, Pam and Dave

“This year the local retirement folks have asked us to come in and cook a full Christmas dinner for them. Quite a few of them have their meals delivered by us every Tuesday or come here to Nice Bites. 

“I think that it’s a fabulous thing that they are all going to sit down, all 30 of the residents, and have a meal together in December, close to Christmas.”

The café has proved a lifeline, especially for some nearby elderly residents who can no longer make it to the church so have their lunch delivered to them by corps officer Captain Sarah Johnson, ensuring they have a nutritious affordable meal.

For regulars Pam, Jean and Dave, what keeps them coming back to Nice Bites is the company and the quality of the food. 

Pam said: “There’s a lovely friendly atmosphere and it cheers your day. Although I can’t say I’m lonely, there’s a lot of terribly lonely people out there, and this helps them. It’s the fellowship, even if you’re not sitting next to someone you speak to them and get to know them.” 

There’s a lovely friendly atmosphere and it cheers your day.
Regular customer Pam

Dave said: “The quality of the food is exceptional and the size of the portions is amazing! I pay a bit more because I think they do such a good job. Anybody who works the way these people at The Salvation Army do needs to be supported.” 

The team who originally started the café still come for their lunches or have them delivered to them by church members. 

Clare continued: “I think it’s so popular because you get a really good meal and it’s very good value, but you can sit and relax and talk. You see how long people stay, nobody is in a hurry to go. It’s a happy atmosphere. On every table there is laughter and chatter. I always try and make the point of speaking to people, especially if they are having a tough time. Having a five-minute chat with someone can make a difference.” 

Church leader Sarah said: “It’s a well-oiled machine run by a team of volunteers who have been doing it for years. It’s a real testament to them and shows The Salvation Army would not be able to do what it does without volunteers. 

“Demand has increased this past year as more people struggle with higher costs, but also through word of mouth as more people hear about how The Salvation Army can help them.”   

Leadgate Salvation Army also collects food and hygiene products to distribute via local charities, runs a coffee morning, craft group and Sunday worship. For more information  search for Leadgate Salvation Army on Facebook. 

christmas lunch at a salvation army church, a mum in a christmas jumper is laughing as her two children, a boy and a girl, pull a christmas cracker. they are all wearing christmas jumpers and there is a christmas tree in the background.

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