Exminster public house The Royal Oak provided a festive community lunch for up to fifty guests this last week as part of its year-long commitment to Devon charity Westbank Community Health and Care.

The pub will be supporting Westbank throughout 2023 after choosing us as its Charity of the Year.

The pub closed its kitchen to the public on Monday 12 December to lay on a complimentary two-course lunch for some of Westbank’s regular users and volunteers - and the festive fare went down a treat.

Pauline Dinnis, who was driven to the venue by Westbank volunteer Mark, said: “I’m having to give up driving because of macular eye disease and it makes such a difference to be taken out to something like this during the week I only found out about this lunch last week when Mark said I might have a surprise for you. I’ve put my sparkly party jumper on especially.”

Linda Swancutt, who moved to Pathfinder village near Tedburn St Mary in August, said: “It was a last-minute surprise for me too. I was supposed to be going on one of Westbank’s organised walks today and then I was told I was being brought to a Christmas meal instead because the weather’s so cold. It’s a lovely way to get to know some new people.”

Geir Utgaard, who’s volunteered for Westbank for seven years, was at the lunch with some of the people he helps to look after including Wendy Thorne whose husband, Len, has dementia. Wendy said: “I’ve been to Westbank a few times with my husband. This is our local pub but we’ve never been in before. Once Len knew Geir would be here he brightened up and now he seems to be having a good time.”

Landlady Mel Bowden, worked in mental health before taking on the pub and wanted to support a charity that helps the local community. She said, “Putting on lunch and welcoming local people into our pub is a small thing for us to do but it can make a big difference to people to come along to an event like this and share a meal with others. I know from my own experience how big an impact people’s mental health has on their overall well-being. We’re looking forward to supporting Westbank this year and putting on more community-minded events together. To help raise funds for the charity in the run-up to Christmas, we’re asking our customers if they’d like to donate a pound to write a message on a star on our big Christmas tree outside.”