There are over 130 reasons why Christmas at About With Friends Community Cafe, in Cromer, Norfolk, has always been filled with joy, laughter and sharing. That’s the number of members it has.
Founded 20 years ago by Helen Dalton-Hare, About With Friends is a unique working collective for adults with learning disabilities, and has the uplifting motto of ‘Living the life you choose’.
It offers its members an outreach programme, respite breaks and leisure activities, such as meals, quizzes and bingo, and equips them with real-life work skills, too, including cooking, woodwork, sewing, gardening and handyman experience.
‘By late October, the excitement is palpable,’ says Helen, 54. ‘Christmas is normally such a fun time for us, and our 135 members and their families look forward to the festivities all year round.’
The cafe and its nearby shop opened seven years ago in the centre of the town, offering a crucial opportunity for the team who work there to increase their confidence. But Christmastime really brings the whole organisation together.
‘It’s wonderful how all our members are fully involved in all aspects of the celebrations,’ Helen smiles.
‘Crafts sections contribute by making beautiful decorations, and some of these are sold in our shop. Members on our leisure programme also enjoy a range of creative pursuits, such as card-making, and the gardeners bring in holly and other greenery to make up arrangements.’
Preparation for Christmas actually begins in earnest in January, when the catering team takes orders for jams and Christmas cakes and starts to plan the other delights that will make the season special.
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