And then Christmas Day arrived!
Young and old were side-by-side for lots of laughter, company and fun at the inaugural event. School staff and volunteers were on hand to provide food, entertainment and conversation for dozens of the local community, in conjunction with the charity Time to Talk Befriending.
The idea came from a group of staff at Hove Park and over the last few months they’ve worked hard to make it happen. An 18 year old past pupil at Hove Park said: "I've really enjoyed talking with people I otherwise would never have met. Christmas at home is nice, but it's always the same. This was a different experience for me and it felt really special to be part of the first Hove Park Together at Christmas."
Norma, aged in her sixties, thought the whole day was "absolutely wonderful. This school is doing something really marvellous for me and others like me. I could tell this school and the people who work here were amazing as soon as I walked in the door. The lovely carols sung by the staff, the fresh greenery, the lights, all the beautiful food and stimulating conversation made me feel instantly welcomed. I was a theatrical costumer so I have an eye for detail...everything was so well planned and there was so much of everything. It was obvious everyone loved being involved from their warmth and enthusiasm. I feel lucky to have been here today".
Walter, who is in his early seventies, was equally enthusiastic. " I've had a fantastic day. Not only did I hear lovely music (which took me back to my days in the school choir!), I had a huge meal with the added bonus of a sprout-eating competition with Julie, who also provided outstanding waitress service at my table. Not only did I get a really nice raffle prize, I'm also going home with a hamper full of things I really need and like. Everyone got an equally large hamper. I'm quite overwhelmed...I would have been on my own today otherwise and it would have just have been an ordinary day. Hove Park School has made my day extraordinary and I can't thank them enough for their kindness and generosity".
Head teacher Jim Roberts is clear that the school should be centre to the wider community they serve:
"A community is about looking out for each other and looking after each other. Our Together at Christmas event was about supporting members of our community that would otherwise have been on their own. Students and staff have come together and worked incredibly hard over the last few months to make this happen. I also need to recognise the contribution local businesses have made. They recognised the value and importance of what we were trying to achieve and were incredible in their generosity and kindness."
We are already looking forward to ensuring this remains an important fixture in our schools calendar for years to come.
Head of Languages at Hove Park, Mr Sandford, had this to say:
"It was a very moving experience seeing so many faces I recognised from the local community coming together and being welcomed into our school. I have never sung so many Christmas songs in one day and it was lovely that the choir we formed were able to do requests for our visitors. The effort made by everyone made me very proud of our school."
Hollie Greener, volunteer, summed up the day perfectly:
"Well Christmas this year was pretty different from any other I’ve had, but volunteering for Time to Talk was an amazing experience and one I’m so glad I put part in. If I wasn’t spending my time with people who would otherwise spend Christmas alone, I would have only eaten too much, drank too much, and slept too much. The time I took out of my usual Christmas made such a huge different to some absolute diamonds today. This time of year is really difficult for lots of people, it was so special to be part of what would have been a lonely day, a much happier day for all invited. Let’s spend this time of year enjoying the company of our loved ones we are lucky enough to have."