‘An hour a week can change someone’s life’

Brian Winterbottom in his garden at Netherton, Huddersfield. Picture by Simon HulmeBrian Winterbottom in his garden at Netherton, Huddersfield. Picture by Simon Hulme
Brian Winterbottom in his garden at Netherton, Huddersfield. Picture by Simon Hulme
JUST AN hour a week can change someone’s life.

It was this simple idea, sparked by reading about the scale of loneliness in the region in The Yorkshire Post, that prompted Brian Winterbottom to contact the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) about its Good Neighbours befriending scheme.

Each Friday afternoon Mr Winterbottom, 80, visits an 86-year-old man in Meltham, a short bus ride away from his home in Netherton, Huddersfield.

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“Because I was born in the Meltham area we have a lot in common. We’ve got to know each other and the chats get longer and longer,” he said.

Mr Winterbottom is one of 20 people who are now volunteering with the RVS in Huddersfield as a direct result of The Yorkshire Post’s loneliness campaign, which launched in February.

There are 281,870 over-65s living alone across the region and almost a third - 91,300 - of those admit to feeling lonely all of the time or often.

Although there is just a six year age gap between him and the man he visits, the difference in their lives was a stark reminder to Mr Winterbottom as to why befriending schemes are so important.

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“About a year ago he was very active, and would still get the bus to Leeds. But he had a fall and lost his confidence and now doesn’t go out much,” he said. “It’s made me realise how grateful I am that I can be so active. I don’t feel old.

“I think how delighted I would be if I was in his position, if someone came to sit with me.”

Community projects across Yorkshire are working hard to combat loneliness but are in urgent need of volunteers. As part of our campaign, we are encouraging people volunteer for projects aimed at alleviating the problem.

Mr Winterbottom, a former newspaper advertising rep, said he was shocked at the scale of loneliness in the region: “It prompted me, reading the article in the paper, to thinking about the huge number of older people there must be sitting in their chair immobile all day at home.”

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Mr Winterbottom, whose wife Denise is a community nurse, has been a volunteer before as a committee member for Yorkshire Cancer Research and has been a member of Honley Male Voice Choir for 47 years.

Urging people to volunteer, he said: “We have a situation where the number of older people is increasing because we are all enjoying better health and that’s going to get worse as the population grows. There must be lots of people who can give two or three hours a week.”

There is a particular need for more Good Neighbours - the RVS’s befriending scheme - in the Huddersfield area.

Paul Taylor, Yorkshire area manager at the RVS, said he was buoyed by the response to pleas for fresh volunteers to help its befriending services provide support to socially isolated people.

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“The campaign run by The Yorkshire Post has really helped raise awareness of the loneliness many local older people suffer,” he said. “The most heart-warming part is that local people want to help. The number of volunteer enquiries we have had has doubled in the Yorkshire area since the campaign launched.

“We still have more older people who are lonely than volunteers to meet the demand, so we really need more local people to come forward to help. Even an hour a week can change someone’s life.”

At present the town has 92 volunteers who help 41 older people with weekly befriending visits and another 14 receive telephone support. Some 35 volunteers also offer practical support when they can. However, more than 90 people are waiting for support and the RVS is desperate for more people to volunteer for just one hour a week. If you are interested, call the charity on 01484 453679.

To find out about volunteering elsewhere in the region, call 0845 608 0122 or visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/volunteer, where you can search for opportunities in your area.