Watch: Valerie Doughty tells ITV Central Journalist Rosie Dowsing about the 'soul-destroying' loneliness that comes with the cost of living crisis and sub-zero temperatures.
A pensioner from Leicestershire who cannot afford to turn on her heating, says she is more lonely during the cost of living crisis than during the pandemic.
Valerie Doughty from Melton Mowbray isolated for 17 months for fear of catching Covid, but says now the loneliness hits harder because she is constantly cold and struggling with energy bills.
She said: “I think you’ve got to have somebody you can talk to when you’re feeling down.
"I talk to the dog and I’m sure sometimes she answers me back.
"I don't know what I would do without her."
During the current sub zero temperatures, Valerie sleeps in her living room where she has a small electric heater.
She spends her days and nights in the same chair with a blanket and water bottle, because she cannot afford to heat the rest of the house.
She said: “You don’t want to get out of your blankets because you’ve got yourself so warm, and once you poke your nose out it's going to be really cold. So it tends to make you not want to wake up.
"That’s bad for your mental health. Some days, because I am so down, I don’t even open the curtains.”
“Its soul destroying really. I can’t really explain how I feel with that.”
Sometimes Valerie is visited by her son Nigel, who has special needs and lives in a residential home.
As a pensioner, she is entitled to the Government's Winter Fuel Payment which is currently being rolled out. Valerie has yet to receive hers.
She says when the payment come through, she will be able to add some credit to her energy meter.
'When I visit the foodbank I no longer feel alone'
The one escape Valerie says she gets is her local foodbank, which is open for two hours a day, three days a week.
Storehouse in Melton Mowbray doesn't just offer food bags, but hot meals too, along with a warm space and social contact.
Valerie has been going to Storehouse for just over a year, and has made friends with other service users who visit every time it opens.
Enjoying the foodbank's annual Christmas lunch event, Valerie told ITV Central: "It's lovely being here, warm and friendly, and I don't feel so alone."
"It's nice and warm here, and I don't have to think about the cold until I go home again."
"I've got company all around me, good friends."
'Demand is up, but donations are down'
Those working at Storehouse in Melton Mowbray are doing everything they can to keep providing for the increasing amount of people coming through their doors, but they too are facing crippling costs.
Business Manager Siggy Atherton says among the new referrals they have received, around 50% of them are pensioners who simply cannot afford the basics.
“Melton is not one of the highest paid places, so their pension reflects what they’ve been earning over the years, so they’re finding it very difficult to make ends meet.
"We have seen a decline in donations but a rise in new people coming."
The foodbank also provides around 2,000 hot meals a week, and their Christmas lunch event is a time to make sure the people they work with can have at least one festive meal this season.
Siggy said: "Christmas is a time that is special and is about being together with friends or family, but a lot of people coming here don’t have family.
"So if I can make it feel special for them that’s the very least we can do."
Storehouse foodbank says it really needs monetary donations to keep paying for rising energy bills and to be able to provide its many services.
The charity Age UK gives the following advice if you know someone suffering with loneliness:
Be there. Simply being there for them can let them know that someone cares. Don't be afraid to ask them how they are feeling or if there's anything you can do to help. Having someone who is willing to listen could be a great comfort.
Be patient. When someone's lonely, particularly if it's associated with poor mental health or physical health, they may get irritable or feel misunderstood by others. You may need to offer gentle assurance.
Encourage and support. Reassure them that it's possible to feel better with the right help. They may need some support to make new social connections or access services designed to tackle loneliness.