There is such a thing as a free lunch


A surprise greeted luncheon club diners when they arrived for their Christmas lunch at Rye Community Centre last Monday. They were expecting to pay for their meal, but thanks to the generosity of Wellington Masonic Lodge, The Mermaid Inn, Tuscan Kitchen, The George and R&S Paine Electrical, the whole meal, including drinks, was free.

About 50 local residents sat down to turkey and all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding, cream and mince pies – plus a choice of sherry, white wine, red wine, sparkling wine or fruit juice. The Sunset choir, with a guitar accompaniment, led everyone in carols and festive music, and a newcomer, a Victorian Father Christmas with impressively long curly beard, delivered goodie bags all round.

Rye’s luncheon club has been running for many years and Rae Festing, the boss, is herself 83. She has been dishing out hot meals for 40 years and has just received a long-service award from the Royal Voluntary Service (formerly Women’s RVS), the charity behind the club. A team of regular volunteers helps with the cooking and serving, among them John, who has just turned 88! He not only plays butler, distributing the drinks, but washes all the glasses afterwards.

The kitchen staff, of whom June Woolley is a mainstay, both at the stove and in the sink, has recently welcomed an extra pair of hands. Julia Lampon – you might remember her from when she and her husband ran the Old Vicarage B&B up by St Mary’s – has joined the team. Rae is not hanging up her pinny – she’ll still be there to make sure the meat is cooked and potatoes browned – but she is looking for help with the organisation, not to mention the heavy shopping, and in spreading the word.

There are about 450 RVS lunch clubs across the country and they’ve been going since the Second World War. The lunches are a social occasion and it really is a case of “the more the merrier”. The Rye club hosts a two-course lunch on the last Monday of each month, at 12.15, price £4.50. It is open to anyone aged 65 and over. The next is planned for January 26. The meals are accompanied by friendly chatter, fun and laughter and always end with a raffle.

There is much concern about loneliness among the older generation and the luncheon club is one gathering that brings people out of their homes and offers nutrition not only for the body but also the spirit. The support and generosity from local businesses brings additional enjoyment to everyone involved. Admittedly the majority of the guests are women, but that just means that some additions to the gentlemen’s ranks would be very welcome.

If you know of anyone – especially someone new to the area or living alone – who might enjoy getting to know people and having hot food they haven’t had to prepare themselves, pass the word. The number to ring is 01797 223952. The team would love to see the tables packed. To find out more about the work of the RVS, visit its website here.

Jane Nunn is a volunteer with the luncheon club team

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