For many of us, Christmas is the happiest time of the year as we enjoy festive cheer with our families and friends.
But for many elderly folk across South Tyneside, it can be a very lonely time.
Age UK South Tyneside estimates that the borough is the 15th most lonely place out of the 326 local authority areas in England.
The charity has teamed up with department store John Lewis for its latest festive TV advert to highlight how alone many pensioners feel at this time of year.
It says some senior citizens in South Tyneside can go for a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.
Today, the Shields Gazette is teaming up with Age UK South Tyneside- supported by South Tyneside Council- to launch our No One Should Have No One campaign, calling on people to volunteer their services to help tackle the scourge of loneliness affecting many of our elderly residents.
We’re urging people to help the charity, particularly by getting involved with its befriending service, which puts volunteers in contact with lonely older people.
Age UK South Tyneside campaign co-ordinator Victora Dunn said: “I felt the John Lewis advert was a very beautiful depiction of what can be a very distressing thing.
“Loneliness is a very individual thing and the advert really brings home how difficult it must be not to have anyone; or not to have much contact with people on a daily basis.
“We decided to launch the campaign because we think loneliness is such as big issue nationally and it is a high priority in South Tyneside as it is one of the biggest issues in health and wellbeing.”
Age UK South Tyneside runs a variety of services for older people, to help tackle the problem of loneliness and social isolation. Some of these include digital inclusion – teaching computer skills; and health and wellbeing activities which range from Zumba to Men in Sheds – a woodworking group.
Mrs Dunn added: “We see how difficult it is for old people and we are aware that there are a lot of benefits to volunteering. We would like to encourage the community to check up on their neighbours and donate some of their time to help older people”
One of Age UK’s key services is the befriending service which sees volunteers visit elderly people for an hour or two each week to provide companionship. This is area Age UK are hoping to recruit more volunteers in , to reach out to the people of South Tyneside.
“The befriending service is one which needs more volunteers,” Mrs Dunn said. “We have 35 volunteers in our befriending service and over 150 volunteers across all of our services in South Tyneside. The befriending service is key – if we can provide volunteers for even a proportion of the people at risk of loneliness in South Tyneside and put them in contact with someone with similar interests for companionship we would be delighted.”
Age UK South Tyneside takes volunteers from the age of 16 plus, but would ideally have those aged 18 plus who would be able to volunteer across all of it’s services which they say couldn’t run without volunteer support.
“We couldn’t run our services with out them, it is vital to what we do,” Mrs Dunn said. “Without them we wouldn’t be able to support old people who need our help in the way we do.”
Age UK South Tyneside support up to 10,000 older people in the borough every year. They don’t have a target of how many volunteers they hope to recruit but would love an additional 30 to 50 to support them.
“Volunteers get a lot out of it,” Mrs Dunn added. “Younger people get practical experience and it gives them an understanding of working with older people. It also provides employability skills.
“From an older person’s perspective, it gives them the opportunity to remain active in their community.”
The Shields Gazette is teaming up with Age UK’s team in the borough to launch our No One Should Have No One campaign - urging people to help the charity, particularly by getting involved with its befriending service, which puts volunteers in contact with lonely older people.
Age UK South Tyneside have estimated that 28% of the population over the age of 65, living in South Tyneside are at risk of being lonely or socially isolated.
Age UK is also calling for local and national government action to recognise loneliness as a serious health hazard and put policies in place to tackle it.
It is asking the public to sign its loneliness petition to make sure no one has no one.
It wants to see the Government and South Tyneside Council develop strategies to map, prevent and address loneliness; evaluate and improve existing services to combat loneliness; and invest in testing and evaluating innovative solutions to loneliness.
To sign the petition online or donate to Age UK, visit the charity’s website.
Alternatively, click here to get a printable version of the petition to sign and send in – get your friends to sign it too.
To get involved in volunteering, contact Age UK South Tyneside on: 0191 4566903 or email email@example.com