It’ll be lonely this Christmas?
Login here to listen to the audio description
A pub in Northern Ireland has gone viral with a low-budget Christmas advert. Charlie’s Bar in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, spent £700 on the ad, which features an elderly man placing flowers on a grave and walking alone, before finding company with a young couple and a friendly dog in the bar.
Charlie’s manager, Una Burns, told Sky News: “It’s just what I had seen in the pub over the years. And I suppose I just wanted to get across the message that it’s not always a joyful, happy time for everybody… and that a smile or a simple hello can go a long way.”
The key to the advert’s success is its relatability, and not just because we all empathise so deeply with those who are alone, particularly at this time of year. The social role of the pub has a deep resonance with the general public at large.
A care home in Telford has capitalised on the wellbeing and social benefits that the pub environment offers. Telford Hall in Lawley has installed a pub for residents using money raised from fundraising activities like fetes. Antique and reclaimed furniture has been used to give the feel of a traditional boozer. There are drinks and snacks available behind the panelled wood bar, which is complete with authentic drip trays and beermats. There are also familiar pub games like dominoes to play.
Residents have relished the opportunity to get to know their neighbours better and enjoy having access to somewhere safe and welcoming to socialise.
“We need to get a last orders bell,” one staff member told the BBC. “When they come in, they don’t go out!”
I do not doubt that the attention to detail of this replica is what makes the Telford Hall pub so popular. It puts me in mind of the Dementia Friend training I undertook some years ago. Dementia was described to me like a rocking bookshelf. Your oldest, most ingrained memories are solid, heavy books on the bottom shelves, while your recent memories are like dainty pamphlets perched at the top. As dementia shakes the shelves, the old memories stay anchored in place, while the recent memories flutter away out of reach.
I like to think that the familiar sights and sounds of the pub, at Telford Hall or anywhere, can be of great comfort to people suffering from degenerative conditions, who often report feelings of isolation. Sharon Mattin, publican at the Union Arms Pub in Tyldesley, Wigan, has certainly seen that link. After witnessing her own mum’s struggle with dementia, she set up the Forgotten Regulars Dementia Group in 2016. Up to 100 people with dementia and their carers go along each month for a free lunch, live music and dancing. Sharon funds the group herself, with regular fundraising events at the pub to help with the costs.
A number of pubs up and down the UK will be hosting people who would otherwise be on their own for Christmas Day this year. The Mill at Ulverston in Cumbria will be setting aside a table with a complimentary meal for eight guests. This is the second year that it has run the scheme, and the team is inviting locals to nominate people that deserve a chair at the table, since it may be difficult for those without company to put themselves forward.
The Black Horse in Aylestone, Leicestershire, has never been short on Christmas spirit. In the past, the team has given away mulled wine to passersby as well as offering free meals on Christmas Day to those without company. This year, it has been running a food drive throughout the festive period and aims to donate 250 hampers to the local food bank.
At the last minute, the pub team may also be stepping up to the plate to support a local charity, whose day centre will unexpectedly be closed on Christmas Day. Although the Black Horse had intended to take the day off, it looks like now they will be opening the doors once more, to support those in need during the holidays. I asked publican Alan Merriweather why the team dedicate so much to the community at this time of year.
“Just so everyone gets to spend a couple of hours with someone,” he said. “It costs us very little but time.”
And back in Enniskillen, Charlie’s Bar is using its new-found online fame to raise money for Age NI, converting their notoriety into a fundraising campaign that will support the elderly in the community over the festive season and beyond. If you’re feeling festive, and perhaps a little thankful if you are fortunate enough to have loved ones around you, you can chuck in a couple of quid at https://www.gofundme.com/f/charliesbar.