SCHOOL pupils have been helping a Leeds charity organise a huge party that will bring together more than 200 lonely people on Christmas Eve as part of a project to tackle loneliness during the holiday season.
Anyone experiencing loneliness, of any age, is able to apply for tickets to the event at Leeds Corn Exchange, which is being hosted by youth empowerment charity Angel of Youth.
It will include a three course Christmas dinner, entertainment and gifts, and is hoped to be the first Festive Angels event of many that will help people to build lasting connections and relationships with those around them.
The charity, which is based close to the city’s historic Corn Exchange on New Market Street, first became aware of the devastating blight of loneliness when it took part in the Leeds Great Get Together, which was held in memory of murdered Batley MP Jo Cox on Briggate in June.
Chief executive Marvina Newton said the issue kept “niggling away at her” the more she read, and she was moved to do more.
“The research on the extent of loneliness took my breath away,” she said. “Loneliness has so many faces. It is often portrayed as being an issue that only affects older people, but it can affect anyone.
“Being involved in the Great Get Together made me reflect on my own life. As a single mum with two children, even as a high-achieving executive, I still get lonely. I want to show that loneliness can be felt by people of any age, from a six-year-old to a young man, to anyone.
“That’s why it was important to us to open the event to anyone who might feel lonely.”
Teams of young people from Notre Dame and Roundhay sixth form colleges, and Leeds City College have been helping Angel of Youths with the heady task of raising £5,000 in sponsorship to put on the event.
So far, they have helped to secure the backing of The Real Junk Food Project, who will provide food; baby-rave company Boom Chikka Boom, who will provide entertainment, and financial support from scores of businesses.
Opera North will also perform, as will students from Leeds College of Music.
The charity is also hoping to work with social photography project Humans of Leeds to create an exhibition of pictures showing the face of loneliness in the city.
Ms Newton said: “It’s at this time of year that loneliness can really hit hardest.
“We want to do something to show people that things can get better - and it’s not going to end with this event. We want to create a network of social prescribing that will remain after the holidays.
“Some people might just want a phone call or a visit, others might want help to make lasting connections.
“We’re also hoping to arrange future events during other festive celebrations, such as Easter or Diwali.”
Angel of Youths is still accepting monetary donations to help run the event, and gifts to give to those who attend, at its offices and at a drop-off station the Corn Exchange next week.
Details on how to get tickets for the free event will be released next week on www.angelofyouths.com and the charity’s Facebook page.