Town keeps alive the generous tradition inspired by Betty

Generous Christmas benefactor Betty Williams

Generous Christmas benefactor Betty Williams - Credit: OSMPBAG

At this time of the year the action group cannot do more but pay homage to a unique lady whose idea has inspired other volunteer organisations in our community and all over the country to follow in her footsteps and bring happiness and support at Christmas time.

In 2014 Betty Williams, a kind-hearted pensioner from West Hill, came with the idea of spreading some festive cheer by treating lonely people to a Christmas lunch.
Betty lived alone and knew that Christmas would be a lonely time, so her invitation was open to anyone in the parish, regardless of age, who would be unable to enjoy a festive meal.

Behind her gesture there was no reason whatsoever other than the desire to do something nice and to help local people rather than sending money abroad in the many requests she received for money in her post.

Betty approached the then mayor of Ottery St Mary, Glyn Dobson, with the idea, requesting him to organise the first Christmas lunch in Ottery. And who better than Phyllis Baxter to take over the reins of finding those lonely people in town.

We used to call Phyllis’s office the “OSM Control Room” as it was the place to go if you ever needed information about whatever was going on in Ottery. Phyllis certainly knew how to support Glyn with this new idea and the first Christmas lunch for 40 guests took place on December 23rd of that year at the Lamb & Flag, hosted by Ron and Angie Miles. 

Phyllis’s work wouldn’t stop there, she would also organise the transport for those unable to come on their own, gather copies of the Xmas carols from the church and even get an organist to accompany the guests in their Christmas sing-along. 

In 2015 the generosity of Betty Williams had reached not only the pages of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph but foreign attraction also and donations started to pour in, which allowed Betty, Glyn and Phyllis to organise the event again for 50 people who were treated to a full Christmas dinner with dessert followed by Christmas carols, Bruce Odlin on keyboard and even Steve the then vicar singing his heart out.

In 2016 Betty joined 50 others for a festive lunch at the Lamb & Flag as news hit about more generous acts all over the country following on her unique idea. On the 23rd of December they all sat to a full “all made in house” Christmas lunch and were joined this time by business owner and singer Juliet Squire, who led a Christmas sing-along after the meal, with Bruce Odlin on key board.

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The Christmas lunch continued through 2017 to 2019 at the Lamb & Flag and at the London Inn even after both Betty Williams and Phyllis Baxter had passed away. 

In 2020 with the free Christmas lunch unable to take place due to the pandemic, Jacqui Taylor and her team of willing helpers at Ottery Garden Centre offered to provide a roast turkey dinner complete with a Christmas cracker and mince pie to the elderly, infirm, isolated or anyone otherwise in need, at no cost.

Glyn Dobson and the Ottery Help Scheme jumped to the offer and encouraged family, friends and neighbours to nominate anyone they thought should be included in the list they were putting together
Jacqui, several family members and a team of local volunteers gathered by Glyn Dobson, put off their own celebrations until later on Christmas Day in order to make the deliveries and ensure the food arrived piping hot and on time on a very cold December 25th lunch time in Ottery. 
It is with great pleasure to read in the press how this town through groups of say, “younger” and “more “energetic” volunteers have come together and are trying to keep those traditions. We wish them well and we make an appeal to the community to support them in their aims.

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