Salvation Army calls off Christmas meal for Horsham

Diners enjoying Christmas Day celebrations at the Horsham Salvation Army in 2011 - picture submitted

Diners enjoying Christmas Day celebrations at the Horsham Salvation Army in 2011 - picture submitted

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The Salvation Army in Horsham will not be hosting its usual Christmas meal and party in the town, it emerged this week.

The shock decision has been branded ‘depressing and disappointing’ by past volunteers and participants.

Salvation Army volunteers have even experienced abuse from people expecting the church to put on the event.

The controversy came in the same week the County Times is launching its Christmas campaign the decision by the Horsham Salvation Army not to host a meal and party on Christmas Day has been branded ‘depressing and disappointing’ by past volunteers and participants.

This newspaper supported the Salvation Army’s festive activities through high profile Christmas campaigns in 2010 and 2011, resulting in hundreds of people coming forward to help in different ways.

Last year about 100 people ranging from young families to homeless people enjoyed lunch at the centre in Booth Way last year with a visit from Father Christmas and live entertainment.

Volunteers helped on Christmas Eve to prepare food, welcome visitors on Christmas Day, pick them up and drop them home after the Queen’s speech. Each visitor also received a gift and food parcel for tea time.

However due to leadership changes and fewer volunteers within the church, the new leaders Majors Ann and Iain Stewart have taken the ‘regrettable’ decision not to run the lunch and Christmas Day activities this year.

Other Horsham churches are now looking at how they could help to put on a similar event.

Meanwhile on Facebook people were asking this week what the church’s plans were, many expressing disappointment, but also wanting to put on a similar event themselves.

The Horsham Volunteer Centre has been contacted by a number of people.

Emma Stapleton said: “Salvation Army are not doing Christmas Day this year unfortunately, I have a lot of unhappy ladies.”

Vik Gill, said: Oh that is depressing! I volunteered last year and it was such a great event. We were both hoping to do it this year. What a disappointment for all who enjoy it.”

Mjr Iain Stewart explained the reasons behind their decision this week.

He said: “Regrettably, this year we are unable to put on the Christmas Day programme that has run previously. With the change in church leadership there has been a reduction in the number of both full time and volunteer leaders.

“Additionally, our volunteer co-ordinator of the past few years has stepped down from that role. The combination of these changes means that while there are people willing to volunteer on the day, the organisation of a meal and programme for over 100 people is not feasible this year. While we recognise that there will be disappointment for some, we are still providing Christmas meals and activities in December for those who attend our ongoing community programmes.”

He added that abuse of staff would not be tolerated.

“On a more unfortunate note we have taken one or two quite aggressive calls over the past couple of days in response to this year’s change and we would like to remind people that while we sympathise with their disappointment, we will not tolerate abuse of staff or volunteers,” he said.

“And, of course, we will be continuing to support many needy individuals and families this Christmas through the regular ‘Hope In’ programme, as well as through the Toy Appeal, and the provision of food vouchers.”

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