For many of us, Christmas is the happiest time of the year as we enjoy festive cheer with our families and friends.
But for many elderly folk across Wearside, it can be a very lonely time.
In Sunderland, Age UK estimates there are 42,771 people aged 60 and over who could be classed as lonely or socially isolated. Of those, some 9,982 are over 80.
The charity has teamed up with department store John Lewis for its latest festive TV advert to highlight how alone many pensioners feel at this time of year.
It says some senior citizens in Sunderland can go for a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.
Today, the Sunderland Echo is teaming up with Age UK’s team in the city to launch our No One Should Have No One campaign, calling on Wearsiders to volunteer their services to help tackle the scourge of loneliness affecting many of our elderly residents.
We’re urging people to help the charity, particularly by getting involved with its befriending service, which puts volunteers in contact with lonely older people.
Age UK Sunderland director Alan Patchett said: “Loneliness does have a physical effect on people.
“It creates a downward spiral, they get low, and this can cause depression and other physical and mental health issues.
“The John Lewis advert is fantastic because it raises awareness of the issue of loneliness in old people.
“It really hits home the message that we often ignore the plight of older people in our cities.
“We would like to see everyone get involved to make sure that no one spends Christmas alone this year, and we hope as many Echo readers as possible will help out.”
Johnston Press (North East) editorial director Joy Yates said: “As the message says, no one should have no one for Christmas.
“We hope as many Echo readers as possible will get behind the campaign.
“If they can spare a couple of hours a week to provide friendship to an elderly person on their own, it would make all the difference to that person and make their Christmas a happier time.
“We all like to give gifts at Christmas, but giving a little of our time to others who are alone is also a great thing to do.”
The befriending service sees volunteers make regular weekly visits or phone calls to an elderly person.
In Sunderland, the charity’s telephone companionship service has had contact with 309 people via 26 volunteers.
The charity’s home-visiting service has had contact with 158 people via 48 volunteers.
Age UK Sunderland also caters for 550 older people by running day clubs offering the chance to enjoy a two-course lunch and play games while making new friends.
The clubs are run by a team of volunteers and volunteer drivers laying on transport for those attending.
Mr Patchett added: “We would like to get volunteers to support these services and possibly lead new clubs.
“They impact on the lives of elderly people, and if anyone has skills and time, we would like them to get involved.
“Volunteers get a lot out of it too. We have had volunteers who have gained employment because of skills learned while volunteering.”
Volunteers must be over the age of 18 and would ideally be able to provide regular support to services and clubs.
Age UK is also calling for local and national government action to recognise loneliness as a serious health hazard and put policies in place to tackle it.
It is asking the public to sign its loneliness petition to make sure no one has no one.
It wants to see the Government and Sunderland City Council develop strategies to map, prevent and address loneliness; evaluate and improve existing services to combat loneliness; and invest in testing and evaluating innovative solutions to loneliness.
To get involved in volunteering, contact Age UK Sunderland volunteer co-ordinator Barry Hall on 0191 514 1131.