Pensioners Mario and Dina Shipani run the Italian Lunch Club every Wednesday at the South Grove Community Centre in Woodston.
The couple charge £3.50 for a two-course meal, hot coffee and occasional cake and have been running the service for over ten years now. About 40 regulars, mostly pensioners from the Italian community, get together to bond over a meal and enjoy a round of bingo or card games post-lunch.
Many attendees are in their eighties who find it difficult to move around or drive. Mario has now even started to pick and drop some of the people, just to give them a chance to come out and socialise.
The club also celebrates birthdays and special occasions of anyone attending the club, something the attendees thoroughly cherish.
Dina Shipani said it’s hard work but enjoys every bit, “It’s a lot of work. My husband does the cooking while I do all the accounts of what we need, how much it’s going to cost. Then I help with the cleaning along with Silvi. And, we must be so careful about the hygiene, safety as we are cooking for elderly people after all.
"We recently got our five-star rating, so we are glad about it. Nevertheless, we really enjoy it each week. It’s so satisfying to see people mingle with each - it gives them something to look forward to especially some of them who are so lonely.”
Ninety-five year-old Alice Capanigro has been a regular for the last six years. Originally from Belgium, Alice has been living here for over 73 years now.
She now lives on her own after her husband died nine years ago, but her daughter Silvi helps her with everyday chores.
Speaking about the club Alice said: “It’s beautiful. Look forward to it every week. Mario can cook! His food is amazing and gives us something different every week. It’s a great way for us to get out and meet people and enjoy some social time. I love coming and talking to all the ladies - It's such a wonderful thing.”
Sylvia Bianchi is another regular at the lunch club - the 91-year-old said she is very lonely and looks forward to the meal dearly.
She said: “I live on my own. Family visits regularly, but everyone is busy with their lives.
"I love coming here. It's wonderful to meet and talk to people. The delicious meal is a bonus. Mario has packed me some to take home - that's my dinner for tomorrow, it saves me cooking.
"I don’t normally have anyone to talk to. I keep looking out of the window just to see a face. That's why this club is so important to me.
“I used to come on my scooter earlier but now Mario picks me and drops me. They are great people. It’s great company for people like me.”
While some come for company, visitors like Angelo Mastrullo come for the food. Angelo said, “ I love Italian food. Mario is a great cook. I love coming here - you get to eat traditional food and enjoy the great company. It takes me back to my childhood.”
This is a typical afternoon at the Lunch Club every Wednesday between 12 and 2 PM:
Whether it's food or socialising, the club is a hit with the Italian community - although Mario and Dina say it’s open to anyone. Everyone is welcomed at the lunch club every Wednesday but requires booking prior to attending.