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Extra special Christmas party surprise for Clacton service veterans

December 13, 2019 03:19 PM

Our Clacton-on-Sea store’s community champion Amy Openshaw pulled out all the stops to arrange an extra special Christmas party to say thank you to the ex-service personnel who’ve given so much over the years.

Amy works closely with the Clacton Veterans Breakfast Club – a group formed after they helped to open the store three years ago – and secured a donation from the Asda Foundation to help pay for their three-course Christmas meal at St John's church hall.

She then surprised them by arranging for the hall to be decked out in Christmas decorations, as well as inviting jive dancers and a swing band to entertain the guests.

The extra sprinkle of Christmas magic was the icing on the cake for the veterans and their partners, with the oldest member – 96-year-old Fred Henley, who served in the Royal Navy during World War II – saying the party had "made his year".

Amy said: "The veterans are a really, really friendly bunch. I often go down to see them and they are so welcoming. Everyone is really chatty and they are always so grateful for what Asda does for them, so we wanted to make it extra special for them by providing entertainment as a surprise.

"They are very well known in the town and some of them belong to the Royal British Legion and we see them in store collecting for the Poppy Appeal."

Amy – who was helped on the day by the store's people manager Paul and colleague Stacey – says the Christmas party was a great success.

She said: "Everyone had a really lovely time and at the end lots of people came up to me and thanked me, which was really nice.

"All the extras we put on were a big surprise for them. We had a display from the dancers to begin with and then a lovely three-course meal, finished off by music from the King of the Swingers.

"And I had a lovely chat with Fred, who was such a gentleman. He said he didn't get out very much so going to the Christmas party was an absolute treat and that it had made his year."

Amy also had a dance with 73-year-old Dave Bye, who runs the club with his wife Linda, and one of the one of the ladies taught Amy how to jive.

Dave, who served as a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy for 16 years, including seeing action in Aden, said: "We helped to open Asda Clacton three years ago, so we've have had a special relationship with the store ever since, especially with Amy, who happily gives us donations.

"We always have a Christmas dinner and this year we were given a donation from the Asda Foundation towards it which was brilliant and then we heard that they wanted to do something extra special for us!"

The group meets once a month at St John's church hall in Clacton for a free full English breakfast where members and their partners get the chance to chat and swap stories. They also arrange a number of outings throughout the year.

Dave said: "We have about 60 veterans on our books who have served in World War Two, Korea, Malaya, Northern Ireland and the Falklands Conflict and we work with organisations such as Help For Heroes.

"Our oldest member Fred was a 'Polar Bear' during the Second World War, on the Royal Navy Russian convoys.

Dave said: "It was brilliant. I don't know what we are going to do next year to top all this – we'll have to start planning it now!

"It was great getting the donation from Asda in the first place as we never charge our veterans for any meals, but then it took off big style!

'Everyone really enjoyed it. It was a very special day. The feedback from those who went has been very positive. The dancers were great and the band extremely good."

The store's deputy manager Dominic Khine said: "Three years ago we were honoured to have invited eight veterans to cut the ribbon for them to launch our store. On the back of the veterans meeting each other they decided to form their association. They now have 60 members and I'm glad that we had a small part to play in the formation of their association.

"What's great to see is that we have maintained a strong link with the veterans over the last three years. We have provided them with funding and our amazing community champion Amy has attended numerous events and the breakfast club, culminating with Amy, Stacey and Paul attending the Christmas party."

People manager Paul Self said: "It was a privilege and incredibly humbling to spend the afternoon giving a little back to those who have given so much.

"Watching the veterans' faces light up as they saw the band, dancers and table decorations that Asda had kindly put on for them was fantastic. The afternoon was a great success with smiles all round."