Winchester befriender scheme 'a real lifeline' for the lonely

Nearly 2 million older people in the UK say they feel invisible or ignored.

Loneliness is said to be more damaging than obesity and causes depression, stress and anxiety.

But one scheme in Winchester has become a 'real lifeline' for those who feel alone.

The Winchester Live at Home scheme has changed the life of 101-year-old Joan Hendry.

She has been a widow for 50 years and has no family living nearby.

Volunteer befriender Barbara calls her once a week and visits her as well.

Someone like Barbara who's never known me I feel like I have a real friend. Somebody I feel who cares and it has made a difference to think that someone thinks about me."

Joan Hendry, 101-year-old

There are 40 befrienders like Barbara, helping around 60 people.

But there's always a need for more.

I get much more out of it than I put into it. Just to come to see Joan, that is a really wonderful afternoon to me that we can laugh and chat together and I can go home and feel that was a good afternoon. It's just lovely."

Barbara Friend, Befriender

In a hectic world loneliness is a growing problem.

It is said to be more harmful to our health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or obesity.

It can cause high blood pressure, sleep problems, stress, anxiety and depression.

Credit: ITV News Meridian
3.6m

people live alone in the UK

1.9m

older people say they often feel ignored or invisible

1.2m

people are chronically lonely

We get so much positive feedback from our members about the services we provide to them. A lot of people say having a befriender is a real lifeline to them and without it they'd be extremely lonely. They like the fact that they know there is someone at the end of the line should they need a bit of help."

Anna Miles, Winchester Live at Home scheme

Another initiative hoping to tackle loneliness and isolation is the Chat-Tea Café which was set up in the city one year ago.

Up to 50 people attend every month and strong friendships have formed.

For some it is the only contact they have with others the entire week.

I think loneliness is epidemic really. Even in the younger generation with social media. You can be in company and still feel lonely these days. It's just about that proper engagement where people know they belong and they are welcome and there's always going to be someone here to chat to them."

Debbie Deeney, Chat-Tea Café

Age UK says 2 million people could be affected by loneliness by 2026 unless more is done.