While most of us will be enjoying our Christmas Day lunch in a warm home surrounded by loved ones, volunteers will gather at a council building in North Finchley to provide Christmas dinners to the borough's homeless.

Members of the Stepping Stones Project a partnership between an Asian community group, the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organisation (SSSSO), and the Barnet branch of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP) give up their Sundays and bank holidays to serve food when other homeless organisations close.

RSVP's regional co-ordinator for north London, Bill Ibbotson, from Garthland Drive, Arkley, was Barnet's first volunteer in 1992 and is dedicated to the homeless cause. He said: "I go along every Sunday and I go because I want to. Really we, the volunteers, we do it purely for selfish reasons because we get so much out of it. If you are lucky, you might get a thank you but really it is not about that. You get satisfaction that you have done something, you have made somebody's life a little better."

A few years ago, when RSVP Barnet had no premises but a desire to help the homeless, volunteers drove around Finchley handing out sandwiches to those in need.

"We did what we could," said Mr Ibbotson. "We were then briefly at a place in Mill Hill and on our first day we had about half a dozen people in, and we felt so proud of ourselves at the end of the day. Then we discovered all our coats had been pinched. Still, you live and learn."

Experiences such as these have not put the volunteers off and Mr Ibbotson is determined to give his clients as good a Christmas Day as possible.

"If you have got nowhere to go on Christmas Day except here, then you have got to be desperate and we try our best to make it as pleasant as possible."

Indra Narendran, from the SSSSO, set up the Stepping Stones Project with Mr Ibbotson after joining RSVP seven years ago. Mrs Narendran previously volunteered with Homeless Action in Barnet, which closes on Sundays and bank holidays. This left the homeless with nowhere to go on these days.

The project found a home in North Finchley in 2001 when Barnet Council offered to provide a small hall at 1 Friern Park rent-free on Sundays and national holidays.

Mrs Narendran said: "I am looking forward to Sunday because we try to make Christmas special and they really appreciate it all. These people have nowhere else to go, they are lonely, and so we try to make a very friendly atmosphere. This is the fourth Christmas we are doing this and it can be a real pleasure."

Food will be served from 11am to 1pm and the group is proud to be providing a full three-course lunch with all the trimmings.

Volunteers will arrive early on Sunday morning to decorate the hall with tinsel. There are only three tables but helpers will do their best to install some Christmas cheer with crackers and goodie bags'.

The Barnet Beavers have collected various small presents and toiletries that will be donated. The children, aged from five to seven, have also made Christmas cards to give to those who turn up on the Sunday.

Mr Ibbotoson said: "It is really quite sweet. Last year some of the clients were so touched to receive these cards that had been signed by the children. One or two even had tears in their eyes."

Seeing the same clients every week can build a relationship. Mr Ibbotson said: "You do get to know them and care about them over time. You need to understand their backgrounds. Some of them have just really fallen on hard times, a divorce, losing a house, things like this. Some have drug problems and, if they turn up out of it, then we just have to give them food to take away because we cannot let them in. If they have been drinking but are behaving themselves, then you try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

"Then there are the success stories. We have one man who was one of our clients, he went through a really rough time but he came out the other side. Now he volunteers for us, he even did a sponsored cycle ride from London to Cardiff and raised £1,200 for us."

The project received a grant from the Big Lottery Fund which will allow it to purchase food ingredients until December 2007.

However Barnet Council will not be renewing the lease at the North Finchley site so RSVP will have to find new premises by the end of next year. Mr Ibbotson said: "We are so grateful to the council for the use of the premises so far. We do appreciate being there rent-free.

"It is difficult because we do not know what the future holds but, as long as we can, we will try to provide food and help. We are not qualified in any way but we can offer our help. We try to always be very happy and friendly. Some people do not want to talk and we leave them alone but we have a chat if they want to. It can be nice because they do get to know each other over time and it can be nice for them to see each other and catch up at Christmas."

RSVP is not only concerned with the homeless but also works with the housebound, the disabled and has volunteer schemes at Finchley Memorial Hospital. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, visit www.csvrsvpbarnet.org.uk for an application pack.