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The Central Otago Friendship Network celebrated Christmas last week with the announcement of an additional gift.

The group gathered for their Christmas function at Orchard Garden in Alexandra, where staff, members and volunteers learned they had received a grant of $3500 from the Otago Community Trust in funding announced earlier that day.

The network supports a wide range of people who might otherwise be isolated and alone to develop friendships and connect socially.

Season’s greeting . . . Santa, aka Bob Hurr, gives gifts to Central Otago Friendship Network member Helene Bryant at the group’s Christmas function on Wednesday. PHOTO: TRACIE BARRETT

Network co-ordinator Laura Herbert said staff aimed to build connections between people by running social groups, establishing relationships between individuals and volunteers and supporting and encouraging friendships to grow.

The grant was very welcome and would help with running the group and maintaining their van, she said.

One of the groups, Circle of Friends, caters for people with disabilities and meets each Wednesday.

Friendship assistant Janette Cannell said that group particularly liked to do a lot of activities.

Many are young to middle-aged adults and activities this year have included a basketball session, a trip to Alexandra Wastebusters where one of their members works, and a barbecue and sports day in early December with equipment provided by Sports Central.

A Cuppa Club meets on a Thursday where members get together at a cafe or in people’s homes to enjoy company and conversation.

A smaller group of older people meets on a Monday, sometimes in local cafes but also roaming further afield.

Christmas cheer . . .  Central Otago Friendship Network member June Medlin and her daughter Pamela Clearwater enjoy the group’s Christmas function on Wednesday. PHOTO: TRACIE BARRETT

Alexandra resident June Medlin has been attending network groups for about 10 years and said she enjoyed the conversation and making new friends.

“It gets us out and about and we go to different places, like Millers Flat,” she said.

Pamela Clearwater, Mrs Medlin’s daughter, attended the Christmas function and said the network meant everything to her mother.

“It really energises her and she loves it,” Ms Clearwater said.