More support is desperately needed to cope with an increasing demand from older people in Basingstoke who are alone and vulnerable.
The escalating problem comes as people are taking notice of the ‘growing epidemic’ across the country, with Government creating a new minister to deal with the issue of loneliness.
Basingstoke NeighbourCare, a charity that works to eliminate loneliness and social isolation in older people, says the number of people needing its services locally are increasing –it has just been given £61,000 over three years by the borough council to help carry out its work.
It says around 40 more volunteers are needed to help meet the demand.
At the moment the charity has 89 clients – but there are 45 others on a waiting list, many of whom are house-bound.
The charity is calling for more people to get involved to help support its services, which include a befriending service and accompanied driving services.
Trustee Hazel Tilbury said that in 2017 the charity experienced an increase of 103 per cent increase in referrals for its befriending service compared to those in 2015/16. Under the scheme volunteers visit clients once or twice a week to have a chat and offer emotional support.
She said the accompanied driving service has also been facing high demand – it has a total of 467 clients, 157 of whom were new clients in the last year.
She said: “[The services] are so important for the community. For some of our clients they are very reliant on the service.
“[And] with the increase in demand, we desperately need new volunteers.”
The charity makes contact with potential clients, who are over the age of 70, after receiving referrals submitted by GPs, family or friends of those concerned.
Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council cabinet member for communities Cllr Simon Bound said he was aware of the work the befriending project does.
He said: “I’m well aware of the positive impact that initiatives like this can have on the day-to-day lives of people in our borough.
“That’s why we are pleased to give the project grant support for the vital work they do to combat loneliness for older people and help to put them in touch with services and activities to meet new friends.”
According to Government, loneliness affects around nine million people across the UK, with estimates showing that around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
Loneliness has been linked with higher blood pressure, worse sleep, increased immune stress responses, and can even lead to the development of dementia.