Licensees David Bakewell and Angela Jackson of the Whitemoor pub in Nottingham, will be dipping into their collective pocket to provide a Christmas banquet to the homeless tomorrow (19 December), while immersing them in the pub's transformation of a “grown-up Santa’s grotto”.
It was at this time of year – six years ago – that Bakewell launched the initiative after being shocked by the number of homeless people on the streets.
Bakewell said: “I'm quite a soft person and, every time I walk through town, I don't like to see people suffering, being without, and begging.
“So I initially started handing out hot drinks but then I thought, I have a big pub, I have a big kitchen, let’s do a Christmas dinner.”
A Christmas feast
Bakewell explained he has run the project at other pubs in the past and, at one of those sites, he managed to serve as many as 300 homeless people.
However, after taking over the Whitemoor only nine months ago, he said it is hard to predict if the pub will hit the same numbers again – particularly with the new site being a mile or so out of town.
Bakewell explained: “But by the end of it, I know we've achieved something.
“When we go out on those streets in our coats and hats, we know how cold it is just to walk around, so it’s terrible to think what it’s like for them.”
“But just to know that they've had two hours in the warm, they’ve been fed, they’re little happier and they’ve got some hot clothes and food for at least one day – this pleases me.”
A team effort
He explained it’s not just food the pair give away, however. The public and other employees of the pub donate clothes and toiletries too.
Bakewell said: “We’re offering them a proper traditional Christmas dinner with fresh vegetables, turkey, Yorkshire puddings, roast and mashed potatoes, gravy, alongside a tea or coffee, and they can have a top up if they want. We don't rush anybody on.
“They get cakes, mince pies, sandwiches and we've also had a large donation of clothes from the public as well. My colleague has also donated shower gel, towels toothpaste, face cloths and things.
“We will be spending up to £200 to fund it. We have had about £45 of donations as well, but because of the meat and the size of the turkey, we've had to put some money towards it out of our own pocket.”
Only a cheque away
One of the most important things Bakewell said he has learned from his six years, is to greet his guests.
He said: “They're coming into a strange place, people are going to be looking at them because they know it's been advertised as a meal for the homeless.
“When they arrive, we sit down with them and talk with them because we all have a problem in life and have something to share.
“Just ask them how they are, show sympathy and ask: is there anything we do for you today that can help?
“We’re only a cheque away from being homeless ourselves. We could lose our homes, we could lose our jobs, you don't know what happens overnight and I just try to think, how would I deal with that if I was homeless?”
Not just today
Bakewell continued: “They’re just lovely people. Down on their luck with a different story. Some lost their jobs, some split with their partners and they just can't seem to get back on track.”
He explained that the event finishes at 4pm. But, with whatever food is left over, a team of 20 will hit the town in Nottingham and Hyson Green seeing who they can find and give the food to them.
“We don’t want to waste anything.
“But it’s not just about today. The word is out there. If you're ever in the area, come in, tell us that you’re homeless and you want something to eat and we will give you a sandwich and a hot drink.”