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Comfort and joy: The people spreading Christmas spirit near you

Alexander, who looks after The Cyrenians' Get Digital project, speaks with Pablos at the newly-renovated premises at 62 Summer Street, Aberdeen.
Alexander, who looks after The Cyrenians' Get Digital project, speaks with Pablos at the newly-renovated premises at 62 Summer Street, Aberdeen.

When it comes to spreading the Christmas joy, some people go the extra mile. This Christmas Eve, we speak to the remarkable people across the north and north-east who are working hard to ensure no-one is left behind during the festive season.

Aberdeen Cyrenians

Support worker Alexander Scott speaking with Pablos at Aberdeen Cyrenians’ new Christmas grocery store.

First started by Aberdeen University students as a soup kitchen, Aberdeen Cyrenians has worked with the most vulnerable communities in the north for more than 50 years.

From these beginnings, Aberdeen Cyrenians has grown into a cornerstone of Aberdeen, supporting people facing homelessness, isolation, crisis, trauma and addiction. But the charity knows that this time of year will present more problems than ever as the north-east anticipates a tough winter.

With its newly opened grocery store at the Summer Street premises, the charity has welcomed donations from generous Aberdonians across the city and beyond.

The grocery store at Aberdeen Cyrenians in Summer Street.

Services and operation lead Lynda Reid-Fowler, who supports the multiple teams within the organisation, recognises the scale of the challenge ahead.

“With the weather  predicted to be very difficult it does put lives at risk so it’s important that all of our services operate throughout this period,” she said.

People are more acutely aware that they need somewhere safe and warm and dry to be sleeping

“This is generally a trigger point for a lot of people. The festive period makes them quite aware of the issues they have perhaps faced with friends and family.

“Traditionally it has been the colder wetter months where people are more acutely aware that they need somewhere safe and warm and dry to be sleeping to protect them to protect their health.”

Alexander at the new lounge area where people can come in have a comfy seat, a cup of tea or coffee, read a book, catch up on news or chat to someone.

The charity runs an out of hours response and direct access service covering 24 hours, and it will be available every day over Christmas and New Year, run by support staff such as Alexander (pictured).

Lynda Reid-Fowler.

Lynda says: “That’s when people turn up in crisis looking for support, or basics that the rest of us take for granted, such as warm clothing, food – and at this time of year we still have a lot of people facing fuel poverty as well.

“From Christmas Eve through to New Year’s Day we will be providing hot meals at 62 Summer Street for people who are struggling,” she adds.

Community and business support

Much of this depends on food donations and Lynda says the local business community has been very supportive – “We have really good relationships with local caterers” – donating food parcels and cooked meals.

Some of the food donations at Aberdeen Cyrenians’ new Christmas grocery store.

Aberdeen Cyrenians also now operates a warehouse where people can book a slot to drop off their donations, but Lynda is keen to point out the value of volunteers in helping people through what looks to be a tough winter.

“People look at their own lives,” she says. “They’re happy, they’re buying Christmas presents and they do spare a thought for other people.”

When a volunteer comes in, it feels more like person to person

Volunteers can hold activities at the residential accommodation, sort through donations, make up food parcels, drive to pick up donations – or even cook.

“The  main benefit of volunteers is peer to peer support, though” says Lynda. “Staff have that official capacity, whereas when a volunteer comes in, it feels more like person to person. Everyone will have something to offer.”


Call: 0300 303 0903


Bethany Christian Trust

In April this year, Bethany Christian Trust set up its new Homelessness Prevention North Team based in Inverness and Aberdeen.

The new team consists of  Stevie Stacy, homelessness prevention co-ordinator north, Lidia, Kam, Matthew, and Inverness-based Martin.

The 35-year-0ld national charity supports over 7,000 people a year across Scotland, and since its establishment in Aberdeen – and now in Inverness – the Bethany team has taken on various projects, working within communities in an effort to prevent homelessness and address addictions.

Kam and Stevie at Aberdeen Bethany Christian Trust. Photo by Simon Milligan.

The challenges in the north-east are specific, with available walk-in shelters and accommodation far fewer than their larger city counterparts – a particular problem in winter.

Stevie said: “In Edinburgh, Bethany helps run an overnight facility with quite a large number of beds. In Aberdeen there’s not much like that. There’s a lot more couch surfing and temporary accommodation.”

Beating isolation

Bethany’s Toastie Club, run in partnership with Kings Community Church, offers a place to visit and get a hot meal during the colder months. Photo by Simon Milligan.

Over Christmas, however, Bethany’s main goal is to help those who are facing the festivities alone.

“For all of our groups we’re focusing on helping people not feel isolated. The holidays are always hard but we’re also coming out of almost two years of our clients being alone in their houses all the time, and so it’s trying to figure out ways we can lessen that isolation, because we’ve seen so many issues, like mental health and substance abuse, as a result of it.”

Kam speaks to a visitor at Aberdeen Bethany. Photo by Simon Milligan.

Martin MacLean in the Inverness branch agrees. He says: “Our work is mainly to help people with addiction and also support them so that they don’t end up homeless.”

Despite Inverness’s small size, it still has its problems, he says.

Martin MacLean, Bethany, Inverness.

“I’ve probably got about 40 people on my register and supporting about 10-15  people a week. We are looking for more community involvement in the future and more residential accommodation but just now it’s getting to promote Bethany and find out where the real needs are and what the real issues are, and then see what we have to do.”

Although addictions are a year-round issue Martin says that “potentially Christmas might be harder for some addicts”.

“Some people will want to use substantially over that time to block things out. But it’s January and February time when they’re in a worse situation, when all the hype has died down and nothing is going on, they feel more dejected and lonely.”

Hard at work at Aberdeen Bethany’s Toastie Club. Photo by Simon Milligan.

Stevie agrees: “Those that don’t have any family and friends they’re going to be spending time with, they turn to different coping mechanisms, which aren’t always healthy.”

Bethany’s Toastie Club, run in partnership with Kings Community Church, is one such place where people can find a friendly ear and some warm food over the festive season.

All of the workers are very personally passionate about it. It’s always helpful when they care so deeply

Stevie says: “Our Toastie Club drop-in will do a Christmas party where each client will get a gift, making sure that it’s something quality, to let them know that they’re thought of and special.”

This is also where the volunteer team steps in to hold activities, and also in and around communities such as Torry, where Bethany hopes to build stronger ties.

She says: “The trust-building process is so long, and having someone reach out can take so much. But we have a great volunteer team. All of the workers are very personally passionate about it. It’s always helpful when they care so deeply.

“The workers always want to go in and see change in lives, but it always takes longer.”

Staying off the streets

However, success does happen and it is possible to help people come off – and stay off –  the streets, she says.

“It’s always encouraging to hear that we may not be the end of someone’s story but we may be a piece of the puzzle that will get them successfully to that community or recovery.”

  • The Toastie Club, Aberdeen, will be open for hot meals on Christmas Day, along with Ness Bank Church in Inverness.


Call: 01224 647677

Laura Craddock

Organiser of Stoney Cares Christmas Day Lunch, Stonehaven

Laura Craddock with son Zac.

The Stoney Cares lunch is a fun and festive event that brings together people who, for whatever reason, would otherwise be by themselves on Christmas Day.

Guests have included people of all ages and backgrounds – even a stranded Dutch sailor.

The event was founded by Laura’s friend Scott Reid in 2016.

“He was aware there were people in the area who would be spending Christmas Day by themselves and he wanted to arrange a meal to bring them together, if they wanted to, in a more social setting, which for the majority of us is what Christmas is all about,” said Laura.

“That year I provided soup. Charles McHardy the butchers donated the turkey and various local businesses donated items for the meal. Eddie Abbott, owner of the Tolbooth restaurant, was the chef, and St James’s Church provided the hall. So off we went and that first year we had 15 guests.

Great success

“It was a great success and people said they really enjoyed themselves, so every year since then, apart from last year because of covid, we have done it.

“We are more professional now than in the first year – we were winging it!

“This year the newsagent Waldies distributed flyers and I roped in my husband.

“This year looks like it will be the biggest yet, we had 12 guests before December.

Three-course meal

“We have the head chef at the Marine Hotel, Robbie Steel. McHardy is getting the turkey, the Villa coffee shop is doing the soup, the sticky toffee pudding is coming from the Station Hotel, the ice cream from Auntie Betty’s, vegetables from Westerton Farm in Laurencekirk, the hall is St James’s and the Carron Fish Bar is giving us the potatoes. So between all those we have a three-course meal.

“We get support from the community with volunteers setting up the hall, doing the dishes and helping with transport. It is amazing the amount of support we get.

Laura Craddock, of Stoney Cares.

“Older people, younger people, single people, all come together. Two years ago, a sailor from the Netherlands got stuck after his boat broke down and he came to the meal.”

Laura, a workforce co-ordinator for an oil company, added: “When people say it was their ‘best Christmas ever’ that’s addictive and you want to keep doing it.”

Laura now has enough volunteers but is directing anyone else eager to help to Stonehaven Larder.

Danielle Flecher-Horn

Founder of AberNecessities

Danielle Flecher-Horn Founder, of AberNecessities, with son Freddie.

AberNecessities provides disadvantaged families with essentials no child should go without.

From nappies, formula milk, clothing, toys and equipment for children aged 0-18 years, AberNecessities recognises the importance of meeting the basic needs of a child to give them the best start possible.

Since it was founded in March 2019 by Danielle Flecher-Horn, AberNecessities has helped more than 6,000 children and families across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Danielle realised she wanted to do something to help families in financial hardship after the birth of her first son, Freddie.

She remembers she felt so lucky that when he needed changing, a nappy was there and when he moved on to formula milk she simply went out and bought it.

Danielle said: “I couldn’t imagine being in a situation when that would have been an issue, an argument, a problem.”

Attending to applications at AberNecessities.

The charity’s Christmas campaign No Child Should Go Without Believing in Magic will provide hundreds of children with a Christmas Eve Box to help deliver a little joy.

Each will be lovingly filled with pyjamas, slipper socks, a festive activity, a Christmas story, a mug and hot chocolate, a sweetie or two and a treat for Santa and the reindeers.

Danielle founded the charity with her mother Michelle Herd and there are currently four employees, a core team of around 12 volunteers and more than 30 ad hoc volunteers.

Boxes of clothes donated to AberNecessities.

Danielle said: “The families we work with are financially vulnerable, many are from marginalised groups and in particular, parents and children fleeing situations of domestic abuse.

“In 2020 AberNecessities delivered over 840 Christmas Eve boxes to children across the city and shire.

“The devastating effects of Covid-19 led to a 900% increase in applications and AberNecessities saw an immediate and sustained surge from many families with pre-existing vulnerabilities as well as from those experiencing loss of employment and financial insecurity for the first time.”

Christmas message

Danielle recently made a heart-breaking appeal for support, especially for winter clothing after a “mind-blowing” surge in applications from people struggling to make ends meet.

We want to change that and add a little magic where we can

Asked if AberNecessities had a Christmas message, Danielle said: “As we reflect on our childhood and the joy we experienced throughout the festivities, please spare a thought for those less fortunate.

“Sadly, 18% of children across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are living in poverty which means the magical feeling and hopeful anticipation of Christmas morning doesn’t exist.

“We want to change that and add a little magic where we can.”

Anyone wishing to support AberNecessities can find it on Facebook or its website at, see its Amazon Wish List or its JustGiving page.

Toddler toys collected by AberNecessities.