Opinion

"Every Year We Do A Free Christmas Day Dinner At Our Wimbledon Pub, For People On Their Own"

"Every Year We Do A Free Christmas Day Dinner At Our Wimbledon Pub, For People On Their Own"

On Christmas Day 2015, a beautiful new tradition was born at the Alexandra pub in Wimbledon, when general managers Mick and Sarah Dore invited people spending the day alone, to join them for a free turkey meal instead. We'll let the couple take up the story, and tell us how the event has grown.

A couple standing at the bar, holding onto beer pumps
2023 marks the eighth year that Mick and Sarah have hosted a free Christmas lunch at their pub. Image: The Alexandra

The best pub traditions start with daft ideas, always have.

Throughout the land, annual sponsored walks, craft fairs, 'German markets' and pancake races began with a silly idea in a bar, and so it was eight years ago at the Alexandra. We'd started offering a "don't be at home alone, come have a pint with the landlord" initiative on social media. A few otherwise lonely folks had been enticed out of their lair, we'd put a smile on a couple of otherwise saddened faces.

It wasn't enough to make a real difference though, not really.

People enjoying a Christmas dinner in the pub, wearing hats and other festive trinkets
In 2022, almost 200 people came to the Alex for Christmas lunch. Image: The Alexandra

A conversation over a pint of ale with a retired sailor set the ball rolling. He'd politely declined my offer of dinner with our staff ("I’ve got somewhere else to go mate, thanks so much anyway") and as he toddled off up the road, a thought dawned on me. We could do food next year, couldn't we? How hard could it be? We'd had nine lonely visitors, we could sit 'em all on one table. Surely a bit of extra turkey and a few Christmas puds wouldn't break the bank?

A cute dog next to a sign say: 10 days till Christmas
This pub take Christmas seriously. Image: The Alexandra

Fast forward to 25 December 2022: 186 people who would otherwise have been on their own came for a free Christmas dinner at the Alexandra. From far and wide they flocked, young and old, rich and poor. There were au-pairs ("We won’t be needing you tomorrow Sylwia, have the day off"), retail workers who couldn't get home between Christmas Eve and Boxing day, NHS workers with the afternoon off — as well as lots of single pensioners. We had loads of volunteers too, toiling away serving food, washing up, cooking dinners and delivering pints. For those folks I guess the opportunity to help out was another potential godsend; every little helps.

A group of people having Christmas dinner smiling at the camera
Much of the food comes from generous donations. Image: The Alexandra

These days our suppliers get on board and are brilliant to us. A lot of the stuff we get for our free Christmas dinners is either donated free or severely discounted. We get cab drivers dropping folks off, people donating mince pies, schools bringing selection boxes in, people baking Christmas cakes as well as loads of donations in house via our 'pound in the jar' boxes. This being Wimbledon, you get the odd donation completely out of left-field. A lady brought us in 'a couple of Christmas cakes' last year in a Tesco bag. It turned out they were Fortnum & Mason's finest. Just as valuable, a lady with a pull-along trolley brought me a bag of potatoes. I thanked her profusely, telling her that thank goodness she'd brought them in, as we were very short this year. Giving is a beautiful thing, never ever to be mocked. She took me at my word and returned 15 minutes later with another bag of finest spuds.

A chef holding out a veggie Christmas lunch
Veggies and vegans are catered for. Image: The Alexandra

What it means to the people who come is immeasurable. Like the guy who came one year, and was in tears at the end, when he came and thanked me, saying "It's the first time I've had Christmas dinner not on my own for 17 years." Christmas at the Alex never fails to cause the odd lump in the throat.

'Elves on Shelves' pouring a pint
Everyone pulls their weight in the Alex at Christmas. Image: The Alexandra

By now, your own Christmas plans will no doubt be well under way, I hope they are wonderful. I sincerely hope that you never find yourself feeling like you have to tell the neighbours that you're off to see your sister in Margate before staying home alone. I hope you never have to watch the King's speech, paper hat on your head, wondering what time you're going to bung the ready meal in the microwave. For lots of folks, that's Christmas Day right there. That's why we do what we do.

So we'll be up with the call of the cockerel again in 2023 (we haven't got a cockerel obviously, I'm just setting the scene). The volunteers will roll in at 11, we'll be hectic the moment we open the door at midday. Loads of folks will come, there'll be tears and hugs, friendships will be forged and forever memories made over a lunchtime. It's both the hardest and most enjoyable day of the year, I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Mike and Sarah wearing Christmas jumpers
Sarah and Mick welcome you to spend Christmas Day at their pub, if you're alone this Christmas. Image: The Alexandra

If you are on your own on Christmas Day, you are invited. We are the Alexandra, 33 Wimbledon Hill Road, SW19 7NE. You can't book, you just turn up between midday and 3pm and we will give you some dinner, a beer and a hug (the last one is optional). Everything is free. By 'free' I mean you don't have to pay, we give it to you. There is no catch. We do get very busy. I respectfully ask, that ONLY folks who are on their own come to us. We are limited for space, food and time. We would hate to have to turn anybody away.

Happy Christmas! Mick, Sarah and the Alexandra team.

Last Updated 18 December 2023

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