George Benn (1801-1882) (National Museums Northern Ireland)

Today (16th December 2020) Clifton House hosted the Benn Dinner, a Christmas Tradition which started 138 years ago and has continued through two world wars, a Spanish Flu Epidemic and throughout the Troubles. And this year it prevailed again, despite Covid-19.

The tradition started in 1882 when George Benn, a generous philanthropist, historian and benefactor of Belfast Charitable Society, died and left in his Will the sum of £1,000 to enable the residents of Clifton House, the original Poor House and Infirmary, to have a dinner in his memory. Since then the Belfast Charitable Society have continued to support a Christmas lunch for the residents of Clifton House, in his name.

This year, with current restrictions, the Charity decided to support Christmas activities in the home instead, with a donation to cover the cost of a series of activities. Many residents have been unable to meet up with families or leave the home in months due to the pandemic, and Belfast Charitable Society hoped to be able to spread some Christmas cheer in a safe but enjoyable way.

Belfast Junior Chamber of Trade also supported the event with the delivery of Christmas gifts for the Residents. Delivered to the Home 72 hours prior to the Benn Dinner, the gifts were stored safely to ensure that they can be delivered to residents on the day.

Lord Mayor, Frank McCoubrey, greats residents through the window at Clifton Residential Home

The Lord Mayor of Belfast has always traditionally attended the event, and this year was no different, bar his meeting and greeting with those in the care home taking place at a distance and through the window! Afterwards he did have the opportunity to join a small number of Belfast Charitable Society Board members for a socially distanced coffee in the grand entrance hall of Clifton House itself.

“This has been an extremely difficult year for a lot of people, but particularly the elderly in care homes. We couldn’t let this Christmas pass without keeping the tradition of the Benn Dinner alive, albeit in a slightly different format. This year, more than ever, the residents of Clifton House have been looking forward to this annual event, and we didn’t want to let them down. We’re delighted that the Lord Mayor joined us on the day too, to help boost spirits and morale”- Paula Reynolds, CEO of Belfast Charitable Society.