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'It makes a real difference': Meals on wheels service will spread Christmas cheer

PUBLISHED: 11:30 20 December 2018 | UPDATED: 11:54 20 December 2018

Looking forward to Christmas dinner is difficult when your physical or mental health makes cooking or walking to the shops a herculean task.

A year after turning on the oven for the first time, the Camden Town-based London Independent Living Service (LILS) is to deliver more than 60 Christmas meals to vulnerable people this Christmas, along with a celebratory cracker and card designed by a local schoolchild.

After starting up in London as an expansion of the existing Hertfordshire Independent Living Service in March 2017, LILS has delivered more than 20,000 meals to the vulnerable. Now it’s turning its sights on making Christmas a little bit brighter.

This is an achievement the non-profit is very proud of.

Lilly Draper runs marketing and development at LILS. She said: “We are probably seeing about 120 people regularly, but we have around 250 on our books. We wanted to take the Hertfordshire model and build it in London.

“On Christmas Day it’s about doing something to make it a bit special for our clients, who might not be seeing anyone else that day for a number of different reasons.”

As a community team member and driver, Rosie Brennan provides the wheels for the meals.

The Ham&High was lucky enough to be invited on one of Rosie’s rounds, and as she took us up from Kentish Town into Highgate and Crouch End, she spoke about the difference a hot meal can make.

“We see the same people every day,” she said. “You get to know them. You know who likes a cup of tea or who gets you to do odd jobs.”

One of Rosie’s regular customers is 84 year-old Nora, who lives in Highgate.

Nora told us: “It’s great, although I have trouble with my carers! I’m going to be in Nigeria for Christmas, but really appreciate getting the meals.

“What keeps me going at my age is all of the exercise I did when I was young. It’s all about being healthy.”

In April this year, contractor Sodexo abruptly pulled out of providing meals on wheels in Haringey. Highgate’s Patricia Hope was left high and dry, but LILS picked up the slack.

Patricia isn’t going to be having a LILS Christmas meal, but as she opened her Christmas card on the day itself, she explained why its service was an improvement.

She said: “It was rather a shock when I heard my old meals on wheels company was closing down. But the folks at Haringey Council were able to recommend a place in Camden.

“I have got to know quite a few drivers who even offer to plate a meal, or to make a cup of tea!”

June Marson is another Highgate recipient.

She said: “I get them every day. I’m with friends on Christmas Day, but I’m getting a meal on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, as I’ll be here. It’ll make a real difference. It means I don’t have to think about it.”

Lilly added: “We want people to be more aware of malnutrition. It’s a huge problem if someone is losing weight month after month.

“Our Christmas operation is really important. Almost all of our drivers volunteered to do a round on Christmas Day.

“One said they would have just been worried about their clients and wondering about how they were anyway.”

Evelyn Dias, 91, was delighted to receive one of the Christmas cards – which have been written by pupils at Primrose Hill Primary School.

She said: “Yes, this is really nice. My family aren’t too far away, but it’s nice to get another card.

“It’s always nice to get a meal delivered – it breaks up the day.”

The drivers have a double role, too, as they see lots of clients far more regularly than anyone else. This means that on some occasions they have had to intervene to help someone having a medical emergency.

Lilly said: “On a couple of occasions, if we deliver and don’t get a reply, and we can’t contact anyone or verify someone’s safety, we have to get the police and the ambulance service to break the door down to check.

“Each time we’ve done this, we’ve had someone rushed to hospital.”

LILS know loneliness can spike at this time of year, and accordingly impresses on its drivers to make doubly sure people due a meal get a silver service experience.

Lilly added: “The Christmas meal is a particularly festive one.

“We’re getting our drivers to pull a cracker with clients!”

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