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The Woman Behind Free Christmas Dinners in Nottingham

20 December 16 interview: Bridie Squires

Christmas can be a right bleddy lonely time for many people in Nottingham. Luckily, Mo Fayose has taken it upon herself to dish out free Christmas dinners for anyone who wants some company and a full belly on the day. That’s right, if you get yourself down to Hyson Green Market Square you can grab yourself a full English breakfast, or a full-on Christmas dinner at St Mark’s Church in Woodthorpe, and at Bestwood Park Community Centre. We put a few questions to the woman behind it all…

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do when you’re not dishing out free Christmas dinners?
I’m Mo Fayose. A mother of two and mental health student nurse. I also work part time as a support worker for service users with learning disabilities.

What gave you the idea for free Christmas dinners in Nottingham?
As a mental health student nurse, I had the opportunity to support patients with mental illnesses. I met people that don’t like the word Christmas as it triggers anxiety and depression because they will be alone and it causes them to end up in the accident and emergency centre either on Christmas day or around the festive period. I asked my lecturers and nurses why the medications they are on don’t take away this festive period fever, I was told it’s mostly down to loneliness. Also, I recently moved to Nottingham and suddenly realised the importance of having one’s family around during Christmas. So, instead of going to London or Dublin to be with my family, why not spend it with total strangers?

I have a few lived experiences myself when it comes to loneliness. I have found myself laughing, joking and smiling during family dos, friends’ gatherings; but deep inside, I still felt lonely, and unhappy. While living in London I owned a bar and restaurant, a grocery store and an alco-pop business. I had a few houses, lived a very comfortable life, but deep inside, something was missing. I didn't know what was missing until I lost all I had. To downgrade almost sent me to psychiatry hospital. I didn't know about depression then but now, as a mental health student nurse, I am able to relate with many of the patients.

When my marriage broke down, I didn't feel it because deep down I brushed it under the carpet. After that, I lost my sister to cancer. To make it worse, the fact that I was sexually abused as a child was something I never discussed with my parents until the man who abused me added me on Facebook and I had to ask him if he remembered what he did to me, and he said that he was sorry. That healed me of all my wounds just over three years ago. I battle with other physical scars that I sustained from a car accident 23 years ago which left me with a blind eye, fractured neck and pains that I’m still receiving treatments for. Honestly, I've been through it all, which helped me to come up with this idea because I know that I cannot be the only one with such a rough life.

Have you done this before?
Yes, through a page I used to run on Facebook. I used to do Valentine's Day couples dinner, Valentine’s Day matchmaking, barbecue summer time with strangers, and Christmas charity events in Africa for kids with cancer. But nothing of this scale. Christmas day is the only day we don’t have public transport in the UK and shops are shut. The only day that is capable of sending both rich and poor, young and old, black, white or Asian into a dark room that could last 364 days. However, in the new year, I am working on a few other events that will be focusing on loneliness and how as communities we can be each other’s keepers. Because loneliness is not about age.

The menu looks delicious as well as diverse. What kind of things were you considering when putting it together?
Thank you. I thought about vegetarians, those that don’t like spicy food, other cultures, everyone.

How are you funding the project?
Help from family and my own salary. My kids are also helping out by not taking Christmas gifts from me this year.

Is this coming from a religious angle at all?
No, I’m not religious myself. Christmas, to me, is a time for us all to be together. It’s the only day that’s actually bringing us together as a community and this is more for me to create festive loneliness awareness.

What’s the most rewarding thing about what you’re doing?
The fact that people will smile on the day. That, I cannot buy and no amount of working or gifts can reward me with that.

Have you faced many challenges so far? Do you see many challenges coming?
Oh yes, I’ve faced a few. Negative comments, barriers in getting across to those with anxiety. Honestly, nothing else can phase me anymore. The volunteers have made up for all the challenges, plus so many words of encouragement from groups I advertised on Facebook, and my kids.

What kind of people do you expect to see on the day? How many people have signed up so far?
All sorts. Young, old, working class. So far I’ve got over 100, including volunteers. My wish is to have the full capacity of both halls which is 200, so please join us. And for the breakfast, we are hoping to serve in the region of 50 to 100. That’s open house, no appointment is required. This is for all – lone parents, single people, small family units, the working class, disabled, able, rich, poor, black, white, green, orange.

Do you have volunteers already? How can people get involved if they want to help out?
I have about thirty volunteers so far. If anyone else wants to help, they can call me on 07506811309 or email [email protected] or tweet me @NottsXmasDinner

Is there a way for people to stay in touch once Christmas day is over?
They can email me, and follow us on Twitter, as future events will be posted on there first. Call me, and of course, I will be keeping LeftLion posted.

Do you have any other plans for the future?
Yes, lots. Next year’s Christmas is already in the oven cooking. Most of the volunteers are all talking about next Christmas.

Was there anything else you’d like to say to LeftLion readers?
A big thank you. You are all awesome and I can’t thank you enough. The readers brought a huge smile to my face one day last week by sharing the event, and I was so close to tears. However, without all the team at LeftLion, the response I received on Twitter wouldn’t have been possible. Thank you LeftLion team, you are all stars.

Free Christmas Day Full English Breakfast, Hyson Green Market Square, 8am - 11am

Free Christmas Dinner, St Mark’s Church, Woodthorpe, 11.30am - 2.30pm

Free Christmas Dinner, Bestwood Park Community Centre, 12.30pm - 3.20pm

Please book your place via the website below

Free Christmas Dinner website

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