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Archant newspaper helps Downing Street locate Norfolk residents in need of festive cheer

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Spuds, strictly stars and seasonal cheer were on the menu at Downing Street as the Prime Minister opened his doors to volunteers and those they help for a Christmas party.

The group from Age UK Norfolk and the Aylsham & District Care Trust were invited through the famous front door as part of an event to highlight the importance of combating loneliness.

Recent figures suggest that in Norfolk about 53,000 people over the age of 65 live alone.

Downing Street asked the Eastern Daily Press, which has run campaigns to help the vulnerable and supports the Surviving Winter campaign, to bring a group from Norfolk to enjoy some festive cheer.

The group tucked into a Christmas lunch and then met the Strictly Come Dancing finalists, Georgia May Foote and Giovanni Pernice performing in one of the Prime Minister’s state rooms.

David Cameron joined Leila Clarke and Bert Cripps, who have both benefitted from the lunch club in Aylsham.

Mrs Clark, an 88-year-old widow from Aylsham whose husband died two years ago, said she had had a wonderful day and it had been an honour to be invited.

She said the Prime Minister had been concerned that she was going to be on her own this Christmas, but she was able to assure him that she had a daughter who she was spending Christmas with.

Jonathan Bolton, chair of the trustees at Age UK Norfolk, said it had been a brilliant day.

He was joined on his table by health minister, Alistair Burt who was given a first hand account of social and health care in Norfolk and its challenges by volunteers.

John Cockaday, an 81-year-old volunteer from Eaton, was also at the event. He helps older people with paper work and said it was important to go and see people in their own environment.

“Loneliness is a tremendous problem for the elderly. It only takes a few minutes to speak to people but it seems nobody has time. It has got worse.

“All they need is a friendly voice, even on the end of a telephone to phone up and say ‘how are you? Is there anything you need?’.

While Carole Williams, a volunteer for the Age UK Norfolk Information and Advice Service, said the prime minister had thanked volunteers for their hard work.

She said that she thought the Prime Minister had realised how important volunteers were, but she said she was not sure that the government realised the range and depth of what they did.

“Like most charities we are two thirds volunteers, one third staff. Without the volunteers we wouldn’t be able to do the range of work that we do,” she added.

She also pointed out that volunteers were not free and required training, supervision and travel expenses.

The group travelled to London with Abellio Greater Anglia, who met them at Norwich station to see them off for the party.

© Archant Ltd 2013