At a time that is so inherently focused on spending time with family and friends, many see Christmas as a chance to make cherished memories for years to come. Sadly however, for many, the beginning of the festive season only adds to their overwhelming sense of loneliness. According to statistics, half a million people across the UK go at least five days without human interaction and over half of all people over the age of 75 live alone.
Loneliness can seriously impact an individual’s health, with medical research suggesting that it can be as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and has more health risks than being seriously overweight. Lonely people are also at an increased risk of suffering from dementia, heart disease and depression.
Believing that nobody should feel isolated this Christmas, Good Friends is an initiative which works alongside Darlington's Neighbourhood Watch to help bridge the gap between the vulnerable and the region’s voluntary social services, such as Age UK Darlington's Befriending Service. After several years of success in Darlington, the project won the prestigious LGC award for best Health and Social Care Project in 2015.
Bringing a sense of community cohesion in an increasingly isolated world, Good Friends works to create a network of informal volunteers who share their time with those in need of extra support. Volunteers are invited to commit as much time as they wish – as little as half an hour per week can make a big difference in the life of an elderly or vulnerable person.
The project aims to provide various types of support for those in need, including assisting an older person to attend a community activity, teaching someone how to use a phone or tablet to keep in touch with their family, or simply catching up over a cup of tea. The connectors at Good Friends work closely with volunteers to match them with people in their area based on interests and abilities. They also offer support and advice so volunteers never feel like they’re dealing with situations alone, as well as training opportunities including safeguarding and Dementia Friends.
Speaking of the impact Good Friends has had upon the area, Jonathan Ratcliffe, a representative for the project said: ‘Good Friends is a volunteering project with a difference and focuses on the little ways that people can help improve the lives of their older or vulnerable neighbours. Since the project launched in Darlington in October 2013, it has benefitted over 600 residents with the support of over 800 volunteers. Surveys show that 93 percent of participants felt more socially included and 96 percent noted improved self-worth.’
If you would like to get involved and help make a difference this festive season, visit www.goodfriends.org.uk