The question ‘What are you doing for Christmas?’ will open many conversations this December. But for Starling customer Terry Morris, the answer is a most unusual one: together with his wife Liz he’ll be running a festive lunch for 80 people to combat loneliness.

“Back in November 2016, we started talking about what to do at Christmas. It would be just the two of us now that the children have grown up and flown the nest. We thought about helping out at a local soup kitchen, but found that they had more volunteers than they needed - an interesting problem to have,” Terry, 48, says. “Liz started doing some research and she read about a lady in Nottingham who invited local residents to her home for Christmas.” Mo Fayose, a mental health nurse from Nottingham, ended up feeding 130 people for Christmas in 2016. Liz and Terry knew immediately that they wanted to do the same.

Helping hands

Last year, they served a three-course Christmas dinner to 56 people. The food that wasn’t served went to a homeless shelter and fed another 35 people. “It was the best Christmas I’ve ever had, so we’re doing it again this year,” Terry says.

Like last year, everything for the lunch is donated by local businesses. Two local taxi companies are providing free transport for the guests and 19 volunteers are preparing and serving the food. In fact, there have been so many volunteers that they’ve had to turn people away. “It’s heartwarming that there are so many people who want to help others on Christmas Day and make a difference.”

This year the couple is also being supported by a supermarket chain. “Back in September the local Waitrose branch phoned asking to support us,” Terry says. The store is featuring The Warwick Town Christmas Lunch as one of their three chosen local community projects. Customers are invited to choose which of the three causes they’d most like to support and at the end of each month a £1000 donation from Waitrose is divided between the projects according to how much support each has received.

This year’s lunch, to be hosted in a local ballroom, has taken on a life of its own. “We’re expecting 80, mostly older people. We reached out to the community via GP surgeries and funeral directors who knew of people recently bereaved and churches,” he says. Coverage by local media spread the word even further.

The lunch aims to tackle a serious issue. Chronic loneliness is as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a 2010 study on social relationships and mortality risk by American academics. After talking to so many people who would otherwise be on their own at Christmas, and for much of the year, it’s something that both Terry and Liz have become passionate about.

Working for a cause

Terry is organising The Warwick Town Christmas Lunch on top of running his consultancy Chapter2Group, which he set up in March 2018. He focuses on business development and sales training. He also delivers specific programmes to help companies comply with new regulations.

“I left school at 16 and ended up in sales somewhat by accident. By the time my classmates graduated from university, I already had a fully fledged sales job and was really happy where I was,” Terry says. He started with a local IT seller and from there moved into mainstream tech. “I considered starting my own business on and off for years, but felt that I needed a certain amount of experience and gravitas before starting a consultancy service.”

Terry’s advice on starting a business? “Do it. I think I probably could have started it five years ago, but I always came up with reasons not to - it can be scary. We all get imposter syndrome. I’ll go to deliver a training programme that I’ve done hundreds of times and there’ll be a little voice in the back of my mind saying ‘what if it goes wrong?’ The biggest judge is always ourselves - if it goes wrong, it goes wrong, we need to afford ourselves the space to make mistakes.”

Collaboration is key

Like many who start their own one-person business, he struggles with his work/life balance. “Being master of your own destiny is great but requires a lot of discipline,” he says.

For Terry, collaboration is key. “I focus on my areas of expertise, such as the sales side of things, and then I have contacts that I can refer clients to for HR or legal work. For example, I’m about to deliver a workshop that came about as a result of a business networking evening. When I scoped out what the client was after, I found that they wanted specific help around social media - this isn’t my area of expertise so I invited someone else in to be part of delivering the workshop.”

Doing business with Starling

When it came to setting up a business account for Chapter2Group in March, Terry went for the recommended high street bank from a comparison website. “After many, many weeks of my application going nowhere, I tweeted the bank and tagged Starling asking when business accounts would be launching. Starling tweeted straight bank to say that business accounts had just launched,” he says.

“It was a Saturday morning and it only took seven minutes to enter my company information. By Monday everything was verified,” he says. “To me, this is what banking should be. It’s the speed at which banking should happen.”

Using Starling for his banking has freed up time he can put back into his business and organising The Warwick Town Christmas Lunch. With Liz, he is busy making sure everything is ready to go and excited for another memorable Christmas. “We’re absolutely rocking and rolling. Everyone’s been phenomenal and words of support are as important as people donating money and being there on the day.”

To keep updated on progress on The Warwick Town Christmas Lunch, follow Terry on Twitter.

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