Residents in Merriott joined a Christmas lunch as part of a project to tackle isolation and improve mental health in the community.

ARK (Acts of Random Kindness) based at Egwood, opened its door to host a lunch club funded by Comic Relief in the run-up to Christmas.

On Tuesday, December 7, ARK invited one and all to enjoy a festive celebration, which saw nearly 30 people attend.

Nigel Bell, who runs the project, said: “It’s really important this time of year that we try and tackle social isolation and bring people together.

“The winter months are a lot harder for some – the weather is not so great, so people don't go out as much and I think as it gets close to Christmas, some people start to reflect or feel lonelier than maybe any other time of year.

“The people who attend the lunches get that social interaction - some people have connected with friends that they've lived near to but haven't connected with since COVID.

“We've also got feedback from some individuals that it could be the only hot meal that they get that week, because they live on their own and haven't got the desire to cook for themselves… but to see this room fill with people, seeing the atmosphere and the buzz around the room with people smiling and joking, is really rewarding.”

The lunches take place in a local village hall, where participants and volunteers use the food grown on the ARK main site to cook the meals and then sit down with residents.

This allows those who may suffer from severe isolation to take part in a social situation that they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to attend.

Throughout this project, those who struggle with mental health issues are at the heart of the process, from helping to produce the food and cooking it alongside volunteers, to spending time in an engaging setting surrounded by others who may suffer from similar issues.

Helen Truman, who volunteers at the ARK lunch club, added: “It’s so important at this time of year because although we all celebrate, often people are quite lonely, so to be able to have the option to come out to meet people, have some carols, have some festive music, have some crackers to pull with other people, likeminded people, I think that is very important.”

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