Late Christmas lunch helps to lift spirits of Bicester flooding victims

The Oxford Times: Anita Rance, left, firefighter Steve Hughes and Doris Castle at the party Buy this photo Anita Rance, left, firefighter Steve Hughes and Doris Castle at the party

PENSIONERS who were flooded out of their homes on Christmas Eve were treated to a belated festive knees-up to help them forget their troubles.

In the early hours of Christmas Eve, ground-floor homes in Hanover Gardens, off Manorsfield Road, Bicester, flooded after the River Bure burst its banks.

During Christmas Eve, all 55 elderly residents of the sheltered housing complex were taken out – and had to spend Christmas with family and friends, or at a care home or a nearby hotel.

After reading about their plight, Private Neil Harding, of 23 Pioneer Regiment, decided to do something about it and stage a belated Christmas lunch.

He sorted a venue, invited residents and posted the event on social networking site Facebook, where he was inundated with offers of help.

On Sunday about 40 residents, firefighters and Hanover staff tucked into a traditional Christmas lunch at the Littlebury Hotel.

The hotel, in Kings End, made available its kitchen, dining room and staff, while other local businesses gave food.

Bicester Round Table and Ladies Circle donated cash and hundreds of people donated raffle prizes.

Organiser Mr Harding, below, said: “It was absolutely phenomenal and everyone wanted to be a part of it.

“The residents loved it. They were absolutely amazed.”

“They said ‘you are lifting our spirits’. They were down in the dumps but to see what everyone had done for them – it lifted them.”

Mr Harding said he was asked to make a speech at the lunch, but said: “I took the mic and looked at all those eyes smiling at me and I could not do it as I was crying.”

After the lunch there was a party at the Ex Services’ Club, sheep Street, where a DJ and band the CaddyFins performed for free.

Hanover residents were transported to the venues thanks to Oxfordshire County Council and each pensioner was presented with a gift basket crammed full with goodies.

The event also raised £1,306 which has been given to residents to help pay to replace items lost in the flood.

Mr Harding said: “We gave money when the Tsunami hit and it was devastating.

“But this is on our doorstep, this is our community and we need to let them know we are here.”

Dinner guests Joyce Ricketts, 80, and her husband Denis were among those evacuated on Christmas Eve from their second- floor flat, but were able to return four days later.

Mrs Ricketts said: “It was overwhelming. People have been to so much trouble for us, it’s absolutely wonderful.”

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