The Hornchurch café ensuring nobody is alone for Christmas

Father and daughter Mark and Phoebe French, who work at French's café.

Father and daughter Mark and Phoebe French, who work at French's café. - Credit: Daniel Gayne

Nobody wants to be alone on Christmas, and thanks to one generous family in Hornchurch, nobody needs be. 

Mark French and his children – Isabel, Phoebe and Charlie – who run French’s Café in North Street, will once again be spending their Christmas day making free turkey dinners for anyone "who finds themselves alone" this year. 

They started running the dinners in 2018 after Phoebe, now 25, suggested they offer their services at a soup kitchen. 

Mark pointed out they had all the facilities in their own family café, which he has run since 1998.   

They welcomed 15 guests in their first year and double that in 2019, when they repeated the event. 

Lockdown meant they were unable to open the service in 2020, but will be back this year with around 20 people already signed up. 

Mark said many of the diners are shy to begin with, but quickly get into the festive spirit as the family serve a three course meal, followed by a quiz. 

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He emphasised the extent to which they rely on the generosity of the whole community, noting they had already been given 200 Christmas crackers by one person and “a load of Yorkshire puddings” from another. 

“It’s a community thing, it’s not just about us,” said Mark. 

“Everyone keeps saying you have given up your Christmas Day but the truth is, we have had some lovely Christmases and now it's time to make other people’s day.” 

He recalled how, prior to their last Christmas dinner service in 2019, his son Charlie had been living in Australia and had not had a home-cooked Christmas dinner for years. 

Charlie had been looking forward to a roast turkey dinner, but after a long day of cooking for others, making dinner for themselves suddenly seemed like a lot of work. 

“By the end of it we didn’t really fancy it, we were a bit tired,” Phoebe laughed. 

The family say they still need some volunteers for the day to help with picking up and dropping off guests who can't arrange transport on December 25.

There are still spaces to book as French’s Café can fit close to 40 diners. Call 01708 451450 between 8am and 3pm, or email frenchs.xmasday21@gmail.com.

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