When George Stubbs walked into the Loafers coffee shop at the newly re-opened Piece Hall on Saturday, August 5, little did he know he was about to begin a remarkable friendship that has captured the hearts of people across Calderdale.
“If we ever run out of cake and I know George is coming, I put a message on our WhatsApp group of businesses and I get three different types of cake come into the shop,” says Loafers owner Mark Richardson.
“The place was awash with people and George just appeared at the doorway.
“He sat down, had a coffee and a flapjack, and I remember taking the mickey out of him because he had a bit of flapjack on his jumper.
“My mum had rung me a couple of hours earlier to say my granddad had died.
“He was a legend. He ran his own business for years with my grandma.
“I only spoke to him a couple of days before he died and he’d said how pleased he was that the business was going well. The last thing he said to me was ‘this time next year we’ll be millionaires’.
“To meet George on the same day as he passed away is surreal.
“We got chatting and he said ‘I’ll be back’ and true to his word, he has been and I’ve got to know him.
“I put it on Facebook in December and after that people were coming into the shop with envelopes for him with cards and money. We had a hamper for him. Loads of gifts.
“He’s got a new sweater on every Tuesday that he got for Christmas!
“When he explained his wife passed away five years ago and his brother passed away last year and he had no children, I thought inviting him for Christmas dinner was the right thing to do.
“He’s like one of the family. Tuesday’s wouldn’t be the same now if I didn’t see him.”
George’s wife of 47 years Irene died in September 2012, and the 83-year-old has lived alone at his home in Wheatley ever since.
“It was obviously a big thing. She was in a nursing home for a few years before she died so I was travelling every day there to see her.
“I wasn’t isolated because I was a member of St George’s Church in Ovenden and I went there every weekend. The people there were very good.
“It’s very important people to get out of the house. I can see the danger of becoming isolated if you don’t.”
George comes to the shop once a week - “I normally put Simon and Garfunkel on for him, they’re his favourites,” says Mark - and plans are in place for him to spend another Christmas with Mark and his family this year.
“It was very nice, I had a great day with them all and a lovely dinner. I think his daughter asked him ‘could George come?’ and so he asked me.
“I think of them as family now.”
“I’ve been lucky that I had all four grandparents in my life up until last year,” added Mark.
“I’ve always spent time with them, played golf with my granddad, spent time with them and their friends, who are close to our family.
“I’ve always thought it’s sad if they’re lonely and bored. You’ve got to look out for people.
“Maybe that’s what led me to speak to George in the first place.”