A locals council almost cancelled Christmas for homeless and hard-up families when it pulled the plug on a community celebration.
Businesswoman Kat Jones was horrified when her plans to provide Christmas dinner for 200 people at the Ards and North Down Council run Queen’s Hall in Newtownards on December 25 were axed at short notice.
Just three weeks before the big event on Christmas Day, the council dropped the bombshell that the venue could no longer be used, citing Covid safety guidance as the reason.
A panic-stricken Kat, who has been fundraising for the event for months, was left in a race against time to find an alternative room big enough to host the festivities.
The Newtownards woman feels indebted to the Royal British Legion for stepping in and saving the day by offering to host the special dinner.
Kat, who runs a free outreach podiatry clinic for the homeless, says: “We have 50 people who live on the streets coming and families who are really struggling, as well as people on their own. Having to tell them it was cancelled just didn’t bear thinking about.
“I spent my birthday last Friday on the phone for five hours trying to find an alternative venue.
“I had booked the Queen’s Hall in August and rang last week to finalise details only to be told it couldn’t cater for us now.
“I had booked it for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so that I could deliver food and decorate it but I was told it would be closed and I couldn’t gain access on Christmas Eve. I offered to pay someone to come and open it but that wasn’t an option and then I was told because of Covid regulations I could only have 60 people on Christmas Day.
“II was so shocked. In contrast when I got through to the Royal British Legion, they said they were giving me their hall with just a small fee to cover costs and the manager offered to work on Christmas Day and bring his family to the dinner so that we could have our event.”
Since word of Kat’s plans to help those most in need have a great Christmas spread in her home town, the community has come out in force offering to volunteer and donate. Businesses have helped with discounted food.
Kat adds: “The Royal British Legion has bent over backwards to help and I can’t thank them enough for saving the day.
A spokesperson for Ards and North Down Borough Council said: “Further to an updated risk assessment of all bookings at the Queen’s Hall, Council recently implemented two metre social distancing for this type of event, which impacts the maximum number of people who are able to attend.
“We cannot permit full capacity because of the uncertainty of ventilation in the building adequately dispersing any particles of virus. Social distancing is the additional control mechanic, recommended to mitigate any associated risk.
“We appreciate this late decision causes difficulties for the organiser, but with an ever changing situation, Council has to apply the appropriate safety measures when facilities are utilised by the public.”