Meet Sean: The man who makes sure no-one in Welwyn Hatfield is alone at Christmas
PUBLISHED: 11:00 22 September 2018
CPG Photography Ltd
The founder of a treasured Welwyn Hatfield charity has outlined how its formation came about over 45 years ago.
In 1973, Sean Cox spearheaded the creation of The Mixed Group, which provides Christmas Day meals and a Summer Cream Tea event for lonely and elderly people.
The 79-year-old moved to Welwyn Hatfield from Ireland in 1957, aged 18, and got his first job as a kitchen porter at Welwyn Department Stores.
He also worked as a costing clerk and in a bank, before eventually starting a 35-year career at Welwyn Hatfield Council as chief cashier and rent collector.
However, unusually for someone holding an enforcement position, Sean decided to simultaneously found the charity in 1973. How did that come about?
“I was friendly with some people in the council and doing bits in the community,” Sean recalled. “I and some others couldn’t afford to go home at Christmas so it meant staying in lodgings.
“I thought there must be some other people in the same boat as me, and so a group of us – some from the Catholic church – got together and talked about it.”
They began by hand-delivering invitations and small Christmas Day gatherings began, before the charity eventually gathered momentum and grew into a community linchpin.
In the early days it was based in Woodhall Community Centre, before moving to Our Lady’s Family Centre and eventually Douglas Tilbe House. Most of the food and facilities were provided by local businesses.
Former deputy borough council leader, Alan Franey, who often helps with the charity, said: “I have actually seen first-hand the effect it has on the people it is serving.
“You walk in on Christmas Day and there is an incredible atmosphere – not just the people eating but the volunteers too.”
He also hailed Sean as an “inspiration”, adding: “I think what he does is quite remarkable.
“He’s not a spring chicken – he’s 80 in May – but he does get about, and the volunteers that work for The Mixed Group have to be motivated and that is done a lot by Sean.”
Each Christmas Day meal sees nearly 150 people volunteer, ranging from drivers ferrying users to and from the venue to caterers.
Explaining why it is so well-supported, Alan continued: “When they see the faces of the people they are serving I think it is all worthwhile. You only have to be there for half-an-hour on Christmas Day morning to understand.”
Another helping hand for The Mixed Group comes through its coordination with other local groups, including charity Isabel Hospice, WGC Sea Cadets and the scout groups.
It is also aided by numerous local businesses, notably John Lewis, and Stanborough Lake’s Terranova Restaurant – which hosts to The Mixed Group’s Italian Evening fundraisers.
Welwyn Hatfield’s MP Grant Shapps, who is the charity’s patron, said: “We’re very lucky to have such a wonderful, selfless man like Sean Cox in our community.
“It is remarkable to see how Sean had steered the charity from strength to strength since its inception in 1973.”
Mr Shapps, who regularly tackles the charity’s autumn cycle rally and helps at the Christmas Day lunch, added he was “incredibly proud” to be The Mixed Group’s patron.
Sean’s commitment was recognised through an MBE in 2002, awarded by the Queen, which he described as a “fantastic experience”.
He said that when he received the letter in 2002, he thought someone was “taking the mickey”, but was flattered to realise the nomination was genuine.
As with many charities, The Mixed Group is feeling the pinch as people have less money to spend. But nonetheless, Sean thanked all of its “wonderful” supporters for their efforts over the years.
He also heaped praise on the numerous volunteers, without whom it would not function.
“They are absolutely brilliant,” Sean said. “It is fantastic to see so many selfless people showing such community spirit.
“It shows there is so much goodness in people given half an opportunity to express it.”
For more information on The Mixed Group, visit its website www.themixedgroup.org.uk.