Young women from County Durham are giving up their time this Christmas to spread a few festive cheers to others.
Courtney Ashe and Paula Palmer have volunteered to spend some of the festive period preparing Christmas dinners and presents for those who are isolated and alone, or who might struggle to afford a festive meal.
Courtney and Paula volunteer through Durham County Council at PACT House in Stanley, a one-stop-shop for local people looking for practical and emotional support.
The duo is among a team of volunteers who cook and serve free meals for members of the local community every Wednesday; through the council’s DurhamWorks programme, which helps 16 to 24-year-olds from the county to find education, employment or training.
They have been involved in DurhamWorks’ Plan 4 Life programme, which offers training in a number of skill areas that support employment.
Courtney, 17, was up until recently homeless. Supported by Plan 4 Life and PACT House, she now has somewhere to live in Stanley and is undergoing an autism assessment, having struggled through school and college prior to her diagnosis. Courtney recently won an award from Karbon Homes in recognition of her efforts at PACT House.
Paula, 22 and also living in Stanley, has suffered from anxiety but learned new cooking skills on a Plan 4 Life teambuilding course and National Open College Network programme.
The duo is this week helping to prepare Christmas dinners that because of the coronavirus pandemic, PACT House will be delivering rather than serving on-site. They are also sorting out knitted toys and gifts to be distributed with the meals.
Courtney said: “Volunteering is great, it’s something to do, helps other people and if it wasn’t for the support I’ve had I wouldn’t have been diagnosed with autism so I like to give something back to everyone to show how much it means to me.”
Paula added: “I like to volunteer to help everyone, to also be able to work on improving some skills. It’s all about helping to get the job done as everyone deserves some help and to have a good Christmas.”
Cllr Olwyn Gunn, the council’s Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “It is amazing to see how these young women are overcoming their own challenges in life thanks in part to the support given through DurhamWorks and the Plan 4 Life programme.
“The volunteering they do at PACT House is a credit to them and it is wonderful that they are giving up some of their time at Christmas to ensure that people who might not otherwise be able to enjoy a festive meal can do so.”