Toasting the first of many: The Yorkshire Post loneliness campaign inspires new Friendship Lunch

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NEW FRIENDSHIPS were forged over a glass of wine and a good meal at the first monthly get-together inspired by The Yorkshire Post’s Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign.

Over the din of chatter and clattering of cutlery, people who might otherwise struggle to get out of the house or feel lonely found themselves striking up conversation with strangers at the Friendship Lunch at the Durham Ox in Crayke yesterday.

Robert Turl from Easingwold raising a glass alongside Micky Johnson from Tollerton and landlord of Durham Ox Michael Ibbotson.

Robert Turl from Easingwold raising a glass alongside Micky Johnson from Tollerton and landlord of Durham Ox Michael Ibbotson.

Around 70 people attended the event, which was founded by the pub’s owners Michael and Sasha Ibbotson after they read about the blight of loneliness among older people in the region.

The Yorkshire Post began campaigning to highlight the issue a year ago, after revealing that 91,300 older suffer from loneliness. With an ageing population, North Yorkshire is one of the worst affected areas. But community initiatives such as the Friendship Lunch are playing their part in alleviating the problem.

Mr Ibbotson said: “We were very conscious that it wasn’t patronising. Loneliness isn’t about money, or your financial demographic, and we didn’t want to stereotype it or making it about being alone, but instead make it about friendship. It’s humbling, it’s been a really nice thing to do.”

Pat Wood, 84, of Sutton-on-the-Forest, read about the lunch in The Yorkshire Post and brought along her friend Jacky Sweeney, 72, of Haxby, who has been recently widowed. The ladies joined a large table of people and were soon planning to attend the next event, which is planned for Wednesday March 11.

Mrs Sweeney said: “It’s a way of getting to know different people from different areas. You need to mix when you’re older and you’re on your own, it’s important.”

Sitting nearby was 90-year-old Roy Berrill of Easingwold. He thought he’d “give it a try” after being frustrated with the lack of organised activities for older people. Although he came with three friends, they were joined by a lady who had come alone.

She said: “I’ve lived in Easingwold for nearly eight years, and I hardly know anyone.

“When you come into a new area as an older person, it’s completely different from being young, or being a young parent with children, it really is very much harder to make new friends.”

The event was supported by local councils, churches and groups, including Age UK North Yorkshire.

Executive officer Alex Bird said: “When I walked in I was hit by a lovely, buzzing atmosphere, lots of chatting, and people enjoying being together.

“For most of us, we don’t want to be put in compartments in life. Going to lunch is something we would normally do with family and friends, but sometimes as you get a bit older, you don’t have the same confidence, or ability to get places, so its wonderful when members of the community contribute to make something like this happen.”

Plans are being made to expand the Friendship Lunch to Mr Ibbotson’s other pubs, including The Carpenters Arms in Felixkirk and the West Park Hotel in Harrogate.

For more information visit www.thedurhamox.com.