Gifts Today magazine

To Cumbria with love

Neil’s dinner offer turns into community effort to cheer village devastated by floods

Oldham-based Neil’s initial Facebook offer to put up a family of four from Appleby-in-Westmoreland and cook them Christmas dinner snowballed into a community effort with residents and businesses in Saddleworth flooding him with gifts and money to pass on as the story hit the local news.

Their efforts resulted in a coachload of more than 600 beautifully-wrapped gifts being delivered to the village on Christmas Eve plus over £650 donated online via GoFundMe to be distributed by the Rotary Club of Appleby.

As well as running Reil Agencies selling cards and gifts for a number of well-known publishers and suppliers to independent retailers across the north-west, Neil DJs regularly at the White Hart in Saddleworth, and he’s pictured top left with owner Charles Brierley and George Tavern landlord George Campbell.

“It all started when I put a post on Facebook offering to host Christmas Day dinner for four people at my house in Bottom Sholver,” Neil said, “The George Tavern messaged me saying they could accommodate 30 people for lunch if I wanted to invite more.
“As it was a long way to come just for Christmas Day lunch, Charles said the White Hart was closed in the evening so the rooms would be empty, and it just snowballed from there.

“As there were more people in need than we could accommodate we planned to send the coach back full to the bring with presents so even people who couldn’t come to dinner could still be helped.

“I went to Boots and bought pressies with the donations as we were very short on men’s gifts and teenagers. I felt like a celebrity with Boots staff following us round with trollies while I said ‘three of those, six of those’! And the Boots three for two offers made the money go a lot further.”

The original plans to give people from Appleby a chance to spend Christmas away from the devastation caused to homes and businesses when the River Eden burst its banks changed when further flooding saw the villagers rally round to ensure everyone had somewhere to stay locally.

Bill Collinson of Appleby Rotary Club told the Oldham Chronicle : “The offer of Christmas Day lunch and stay was absolutely stunning. The presents from Oldham couldn’t have come at a better time because we organised a big Christmas party in the Town Hall. This meant everyone had something to open on Christmas Day.”

The presents, ranging from blankets and coats to toiletries, wine, chocolates and toys, were boxed by Neil, Charles and a team of wrapping elves with the help of Red Rose Packaging and labelled according to age and gender.

Then the gifts were loaded on to a Swans coach – originally volunteered to transport people to and from the village – on Christmas Eve and delivered to Appleby with a second lot following a couple of days later.

Neil, who usually volunteers at homeless shelters over Christmas, added: “It’s a shame we couldn’t help by bringing the families here but, in a way, a better result has happened.

“The generosity of people has been fantastic and it makes me proud to be an Oldhamer. We owe a huge thank you to many people who offered to help and donated gifts.

“I’d not bought any Christmas food as I was too busy, I had to do it Boxing Day when everywhere was open – but one day’s sacrifice is nothing compared to losing your home for months ahead.”

Charles added: “We had a tremendous response and we’re so pleased. One couple have lost not just their home but also their business so I’ve asked them to come and stay for a couple of days after Christmas with all meals and transport covered.”

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