Sunderland AFC's Luke O’Nien brings Swan Lodge festive joy

published on 21 Dec 2023

Andy Smith and Luke O'Nien
Support worker Andy Smith with Luke O'Nien

Sunderland AFC’s captain Luke O’Nien helped bring festive hope and joy to The Salvation Army’s Swan Lodge Lifehouse in Sunderland for residents who may find Christmas a particularly difficult time of year. 

The defender's visit was part of two weeks of fun-packed activities to celebrate Christmas which also includes a carol service featuring the Swan Lodge Choir, speed-gaming, karaoke, and a gingerbread house competition culminating in a slap up three course meal on Christmas Day. 

Service manager Christine Ritchie and her dedicated team are also out and about in the community of Hendon serving meals to vulnerable people and, after teaming up with local Italian restaurant Sambuca, making sure struggling families get the chance to take their children to the Christmas Grotto. 

Christine, who has been manager at The Salvation Army Lifehouse for 16 years, said: “At Swan Lodge we class ourselves as a family. For a lot of the lads and lasses it’s difficult at Christmas as they don’t see their family, or the prospect of the New Year comes with certain expectations so it is not always a fun time. We try to make it as homely and family orientated as possible, recreating what we would have at our own homes for our residents, making it as fun and stress free as possible. 

Swan Lodge Christmas

“There will be individuals who don’t want to participate so we just keep a close eye on them and make sure they are okay. There’s no pressure on people to get involved but we want to create an atmosphere of joy and hope.” 

The footballer recently awarded Swan Lodge Utilita Giving Community Organisation of the Month with a donation of £500. 

Christine continued: “For our residents and staff it meant so much to have Luke spend some time with them, it really boosts morale. We want to thank him and Sunderland AFC for all of their support this year.” 

Part of the celebrations was a carol concert held the week before Christmas with The Sally Army band and the Swan Lodge Choir, made up of residents and staff, complete with a ballet performance from some members of team! 

Christine continued: “It was a very refined affair, very high brow – the Swan Lodge Northern Corp de Ballet performing the Nutcracker! 

“Every night through to New Year we have something planned. We’ve got baking competitions, karaoke, film nights, a Christmas themed art competition and ‘speed gaming’ where people race to complete board games which is always a giggle. 

Swan Lodge Christmas Luke O'Nien

“Then on Christmas Day we will do a full meal and Father Christmas will be coming with some presents. We’re hoping to have some special guests along as well.” 

For resident Jules, 50, who became homeless after she split with her partner almost two years ago, the atmosphere at Swan Lodge is especially fun this time of year. 

She said: “It’s like one big happy family. In the week before Christmas we’ve got lots on including a Ru Paul Drag Race organised by one of the residents, then I will be singing in the choir and doing a reading at the choir concert. It’s so much fun and you’re never bored. 

“On Christmas Day we have a big Christmas dinner and staff put presents in our rooms. If I wasn’t here at Swan Lodge at Christmas, I would still be on the streets, in fact I think I would be dead.” 

Swan Lodge Christmas

Having built up her skills, Jules also volunteers at The Salvation Army’s Sunderland Citadel church in Cairo Street where Swan Lodge serves free meals to vulnerable people every Thursday, and where it hosted a Christmas meal last week.  

On Christmas Eve, they are also partnering with Italian restaurant Sambuca to host a free  grotto and elf experience for families who are struggling financially this year. The Salvation Army is providing selection boxes and books for children. 

Christine added: “Swan Lodge is very much a part of the community here in Hendon and working with nearby Salvation Army churches we are able to extend our help to beyond our lads and lasses and support local families through the Christmas Present Appeal, making sure children have gifts to open on Christmas morning, through providing food parcels and presents for the  Grotto. The need in the area this year is greater than ever with cost of living rises so our staff and residents are pleased to be able to help in this way as well.” 

Swan Lodge provides supported accommodation for up to 65 people who are homeless. 

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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