The boy playing on his own in the park, the elderly man who hasn’t been out of the house in days, and the wife eating alone while her husband works away.
All suffer the same thing – loneliness.
It’s the hidden epidemic that is as damaging on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and one village is fighting back.
Denholme, near Bradford, was chosen as one of four Yorkshire neighbourhoods to take part in a three-year project with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
A group of local people volunteered as researchers to find out exactly what was causing loneliness across the village, and come up with innovative ideas to tackle it.
Tracey Robbins, JRF’s programme manager for Neighbourhood Approaches to Loneliness, said that in some areas social isolation was the main cause of loneliness, but in Denholme, it was lack of communication.
She said: “It is an ageing village but has a young population as well. There was a sense of being isolated because they didn’t know what was happening or how to get involved.
“Loneliness can affect people at any age and what was really surprising was the amount of young people and the children who experience loneliness. There were a lot of women who were in relationships but their husbands worked away in the week and they would suffer from loneliness.
“What’s great is that even though the research has finished, the work continues. Any one of us can do something about loneliness.”
Denholme’s Mechanics Institute has played a key part, becoming a true community hub.
It has been in the village for more than 120 years and Denholme Community Association (DCA) has just secured a £50,000 grant from WREN to modernise the building to bring it into even greater use.
Remarkably, donations from local people and businesses have added a further £25,000 to the pot – with one ex-villager now living in Canada donating after seeing the plea on the village’s new Facebook page, set up to help keep the community informed about events.
Peter Foster, chair of DCA, was one of the project researchers, and found “people of all ages and all walks of life that were lonely”.
He said: “It was almost impossible to categorise.
“We came up with various ideas to use the facilities we have to raise awareness of loneliness, but not in a direct way. We didn’t want to be blatant and say ‘come along if you’re lonely’, as many of the people we spoke to that clearly seemed to be suffering from loneliness, didn’t identify themselves as lonely. It’s almost a taboo subject when approached directly.
“People now take the time to speak to their neighbours, when they would not have done before. Just raising awareness of the issue has made people take that first step.”