Families and friends have gathered at care homes across the South to share memories of loved ones they have lost in the past year.

All 20 homes run by family-owned Colten Care in Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Sussex took part in the provider’s Celebration of Life day.

Such was the response from dozens of families, current residents and team members that it may become an annual event.

How to mark the day was a decision left up to individual homes. There were tea parties, poetry readings, religious services, blessings, live singing and harp music, and flower and tree plantings.

At Kingfishers in New Milton, residents and visitors were invited to reflect on the lives of those who have passed away and write messages about them on cards which they tied to an evergreen sapling. A poem was read out by longest serving staff member Tania Ruzheva.

Home Manager Beata Brozozowska said: “The day was a lovely opportunity to celebrate people’s lives. It was very emotional. Of course there was sadness but we also shared good memories.”

At Fernhill, Colten Care’s dedicated dementia care home in Longham near Ferndown, 15 families were represented. The lives of lost loved ones were toasted with a glass of bubbly as a new memory water feature was unveiled. Cakes featuring forget-me-not flower decorations were served and families were invited to share their reflections in a memorial book. After the celebration, gifts of a ceramic pot, forget-me-not seeds and soil were handed out for visitors to take away with them.

In a message of thanks, one family wrote: “The fountain is delightful and a super memorial to your late residents. We are looking forward to seeing the flowers grow too. The pots were a lovely touch.”

More than 40 people attended a service at Braemar Lodge in Salisbury which was followed by tea in the garden.

Home Manager Alison Bremner said: “Everyone was chatting to each other and remembering old times and friends. No-one was in a hurry to go.”

In Poole, Canford Chase care home welcomed 16 family members plus many of the current residents for a service.

Home Manager Charlotte Wilson said: “The atmosphere was buzzing, the sun shone through the windows and although some people had a few tears during the service, the tea, cake and informal chat afterwards cheered everyone up. I have been asked by many of our guests and by the church members too whether we would make this an annual event and I feel we should, given the very positive and enthusiastic feedback.”