Call for action as half a million elderly face Christmas alone

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HALF A MILLION lonely older people face spending Christmas alone as people do not know how to offer their help, a charity has said.

Friends of the Elderly said two out of three people want to do more to help the 500,000 older people who will spend Christmas Day alone, but don’t know how.

It is urging people to do more to look out for elderly neighbours, as one support service, which matches people with Christmas Day events in their area, revealed that vast parts of Yorkshire are without vital community get-togethers that could prevent people spending the day alone.

Community Christmas provides support and guidance to those wishing to set up events on Christmas Day, be it traditional lunches, tea dances or parties. It also has a free listing services where people can find an event to attend or support. While more than 200 events have been listed across the country, swathes of the region are without events, founder Caroline Billington said.

“People in Yorkshire will be struggling to find somewhere to go,” she said. “There’s nothing we know of in Sheffield, for example, Doncaster or Chesterfield - huge areas where there’s nothing to do if you’re alone. And while there may be smaller events going on, if we don’t know about it, it’s unlikely that the people they are trying to cater for do too.”

Friends of the Elderly’s research showed 62 per cent of people felt they could do more to support older people at this time of year, but a third said they don’t have the time or don’t know how.

Steve Allen, chief executive at the charity, said simple things like wishing a neighbour Merry Christmas or having a brief chat could “make the world of difference to an older person” who has no family and friends around.

“Loneliness is a big problem but we know that it will make a real difference if everyone simply gets to know the people who live around them and look out for each other where they can,” he said. “We want to stress that people don’t have to go out of their way to get involved, which is why many of the things we suggest can be done as part of their daily routine. For example, picking up Christmas groceries for an older neighbour or writing and delivering an extra Christmas card.”

But Community Christmas, which began in 2011, has shown that making a bigger effort can have a lasting impact. While many charities, church groups and community centres have already planned their events, there’s still time for volunteers to plan new projects, especially in areas where no events are already listed, like parts of South Yorkshire, York or Wakefield.

“There are a lot of organisations out there that offer Christmas lunches or parties throughout December, but not on Christmas Day, when people might be feeling at their most alone,” Ms Billington said.

“When you are dealing with potentially half a million older people who will be alone on Christmas Day, 200 events isn’t enough. We need so many more events.”

To find an event near you, or to register a new event, visit www.communitychristmas.org.uk

The voices of people who are lonely and living in isolation are being used by The Yorkshire Post to force chance in tackling the issue.

Our campaign, Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic, has achieved great strides in highlighting the issue of loneliness and the way it blights the region’s communities since it launched in February

But we want to take the campaign to the next level and create something that is impossible to ignore - an audio archive of real people telling their experiences of loneliness.

We know it affects thousands of people across the region, of all ages and backgrounds. If you would like to be involved, contact reporter Lindsay Pantry on 0113 2388422 or email lindsay.pantry@ypn.co.uk