In less than four weeks, The Dalesman Country Inn, Sedbergh will be extending its warm welcome to a group of homeless veterans from the North West for Christmas.
The Dalesman is a big part of the community, supporting local people and helping charitable causes, including the ‘Christmas for Veterans’ initiative.
Owner, Mike Garnett grew up in the town before moving abroad with his career. On return home, he was drawn back to characterful Sedbergh and the pub that his parents ran. Aged just 23 and full of youthful enthusiasm, Mike took over the running of The Dalesman.
Mike commented, “Having grown up in Sedbergh, I had a huge affection for the place and naturally wanted to invest in and support the community, whether that be employing local people or working with local producers and suppliers. With more and more local people moving away to find jobs or affordable housing, I felt it was important to do whatever I could.”
“After leaving home, I worked in hospitality venues all around the world, but I never forgot the warm welcome of The Dalesman. The friendly atmosphere that you feel when you walk in is created by our local customers. They are the life blood of the town particularly in the quieter months, so it’s essential that we continue to foster that good local spirit”.
Over the years, Mike along with his partner Hannah found various ways to draw on their resources running the pub to support the community, including hosting an annual street party in the town and supporting secondary school pupils at local Settlebeck School to better understand farm-to-fork food production in partnership with local farmer, Brian Capstick.
It was in 2017, during a chance conversation with Brian, who supplies The Dalesman with beef produced up the road on his farm, that the idea of the ‘Christmas for Veterans’ was born. As an Army veteran himself, Brian has long been involved in fundraising and charity work for the armed forces. Brian runs The Rawthey Project which works to support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged military veterans back into sustainable employment and independent living.
Mike said, “I’ve always been fascinated listening to Brian speak about his experiences of serving in the Army and admired his selfless work supporting veterans in need. In the early December of 2017, we were chatting about ways to potentially help veterans during Christmas and I offered the use of The Dalesman. I don’t think Brian thought I was serious because he rang me the next day to ask if I had meant what I’d said”.
With just three weeks to go, The Dalesman had several room bookings for Christmas, so Mike acted quickly to cancel the bookings and prepare his team of staff.
Mike added, “That first year I had no idea what to expect. My team were rather surprised when I told them the plans, but they turned round and asked how they could help. We even had offers of help from local people who heard about what we were doing.”
On 24th December 2017, The Dalesman welcomed 16 homeless veterans that would have otherwise spent their Christmas sleeping rough. On arrival they were greeted with a home-cooked meal and spent a further two nights with the team until Boxing Day.
The Dalesman has welcomed veterans at Christmas every year since, until the pandemic prevented them from opening in 2020. Members of the community bring gifts such as toiletries, home-made jam and children’s toys which are wrapped and carefully allocated to each recipient. As well as a warm and relaxing place to spend Christmas, the veterans can enjoy home-cooked meals including Christmas Dinner, open their gifts and enjoy a walk around Brian’s farm for some fresh air.
Speaking about the impact that the initiative has made on him, Mike said, “It’s changed Christmas for me, forever. It’s something very special to be able to do and I wouldn’t go back.
“One year we welcomed a gentleman that found it too difficult to sleep in a bed. He’d forgotten how to embrace comfort and we found him sleeping in his car. He had almost given up on life but after the stay with us, he told me how we’d made him realise what being a part of a community can be like.
“Over the years we’ve seen what those 48 hours can do for some of the individuals. Many of them just want somebody to listen to them. They see how the community in Sedbergh comes together and they don’t feel so isolated; it gives them hope. It’s very heart-warming to see and it’s a testament to the strength of the community here, which has served us well during the pandemic.”
Brian Capstick, Co-Founder of the Christmas for Veterans initiative said, “The Dalesman does charity in the traditional sense. When family time is so precious and opportunities to make serious money are in front of them, they recognise that Christmas is a very lonely time for the most vulnerable and for many it is a time of financial pressure. By blocking out their rooms for our veterans and their families, they absorb tangible lost revenue, they give up their precious family time and they look for nothing in return. Coordinating with the local community to make sure that kids have presents to open and then to sit with them and make them feel part of their family over Christmas Dinner is something very special.”
2021 will be the fourth year of running Christmas for Veterans and Mike, Brian and their supporters hope to continue the tradition for many years to come.
To get involved or find out more contact Mike via firstname.lastname@example.org