CHRISTMAS is a time for family, friendship and togetherness.

However, for others who no longer have their loved ones it can feel like the loneliest time of year.

The Dorset Echo speaks to Gracewell care home in Weymouth about how its staff work to put on festive feel-good events for its residents, and its ‘Not Alone’ Christmas campaign.

IT’S easy to become consumed by the joy and excitement of Christmas, and the build-up to the big day.

So, it’s easy to forget that our older generation who may have lost their wives, husbands or whose family are too far away to visit, may have no one at what is meant to be the most wonderful time of the year.

Heartbreaking research by Age UK found that around 70,000 older people in the south west feel lonelier at Christmas, and many don’t see anyone for days on end over the festive period.

A care home in Weymouth is hoping to tackle the issue of chronic loneliness during the family-orientated festive season by organising an array of activities and events for its residents.

We spoke to Rachael Craig, activities co-ordinator at Gracewell of Weymouth, on Cross Road, who explained how their programme of activities can help battle the feelings of loneliness that residents might feel at this time of year.

She said: “We always have a general programme that goes on, which has been ten-fold this year.

“The Salvation Army brass band came to visit, and they were fantastic. They played in the corridors, so even people who were in their rooms could hear the band playing.

“It brought many residents to tears. It brought me to tears too. It was really lovely, I could see the residents who were there living every moment of it.”

And at Gracewell, they are not just thinking about their own residents.

As part of the company’s ‘Not Alone’ campaign, it is inviting two people from the local community to join in with its Christmas Day celebrations.

The nationwide campaign encourages Gracewell to work with local churches or charities, and invite seniors who may be preparing for a Christmas on their own, for an afternoon of festive lunch followed by games and entertainment.

This year, Gracewell of Weymouth is working with the Island Community Action (ICA) group on Portland.

The ICA supports the residents and communities of Portland and Wyke Regis to achieve a better sense of wellbeing. Through delivering a range of activities and services it aims to help vulnerable adults who are impacted by problems such as isolation, loneliness and malnutrition.

Part of home admissions manager Esther Sheppard's role at Gracewell is making and building on relationships with the local community, including the ICA. Earlier this year, Esther set up a regular cinema and coffee trip for members which gives them a chance to visit Gracewell, enjoy the cinema and meet and chat with other residents.

Three people from the ICA group will be invited to Gracewell on December 25, where they will be provided with hot food, company and a host of entertainment.

Rachael is trying to inject the joy of Christmas into each day at the care home this month, by dressing up in a different festive outfit each day.

She said: “I have been an angel, an elf, and even a snowman. It has proved so popular with our residents who are maybe bed-bound.

“They really look forward to the next day, it keeps them going.”

Christmas Day at Gracewell is a hive of activity from start to finish.

In the morning, residents gather for a meet and greet with families, who are provided with prosecco, Buck’s Fizz or soft drinks in true festive style.

They are then treated to an accordion performance in the community area, before heading back upstairs for a tasty Christmas lunch.

Rachael said: “In the morning me and the maintenance manager dress up as Santa and Rudolph and deliver every single resident with a card and a Christmas present.”

However, the sad reality is that not every resident will feel as festive as others on the day. Some will reminisce on when they were able to celebrate at home with their family, something they can no longer do.

For this reason, Rachael and the care home staff dedicate a little more time to those who they anticipate will be on their own.

She said: “When we go into visit, we know who will be visited by relatives and who won’t be. We always take that extra special time to make sure they are OK.

“Activities staff working that day will go and sit with residents. And we don’t try and make it all about Christmas. If we think they are getting upset, then we simply just change the subject.”