Volunteer Now tackles loneliness with new campaign urging public to give the gift of friendship this Christmas
Volunteer Now, the lead organisation for volunteering in Northern Ireland, has launched a new campaign which aims to put tackling loneliness in the elderly community at the top of this year’s Christmas wish list.
With almost a quarter of older people saying they will be forced to choose between heating their home or putting food on their table this winter, Volunteer Now is launching a new campaign to bring older people together this Christmas to share hot food and friendship.
The ‘Give the Gift of Friendship’ campaign is encouraging citizens right across Northern Ireland to lend their support in one of two ways – by making a befriending donation to directly support campaign activity, or by signing up to register as a volunteer befriender.
There are over 285,000 older people over the age of 65 living in Northern Ireland - set to grow to more than 600,000 by 2039 – and over 78,000 older people live alone.
As part of its mission to tackle loneliness in the elderly, Volunteer Now has provided more than 3,000 hours of befriending to older people in need right across Northern Ireland since March 2021.
Befriending scheme service user, 72-year-old Jeanette Sharvin who lives alone in East Belfast said:
“I lost my son in 2014 and have lived alone ever since. Last year, I was referred to Volunteer Now to avail of their driving services to help me out with messages and getting to and from appointments, but it was through this referral that I met Victoria – Volunteer Now’s Befriending Scheme Coordinator – and I began using their befriending service.
The friendship I have found with Victoria has been a complete lifesaver. Having someone to care and share something with you makes such a big difference as some days I don’t see anybody at all. There’s nothing as evil as loneliness, it really is an awful thing.
Now, I really look forward to my chats with Victoria and days out to meet other older people using the befriending service. It’s given me a new lease of life and helps make those days where I am on my own that little bit easier.”
Statistics from the NICVA Loneliness in Northern Ireland: A Call to Action report found that one in three people are ‘more often lonely’ and that chronic loneliness affects 1 in 20 people here. More than 100,000 older people say they only have the television for company, whilst 26,000 say they feel trapped in their own home.
Loneliness can have a detrimental impact on a person’s physical and mental health, akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Numerous health conditions have been linked back to loneliness, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cognitive decline.
Victoria O’Neill, Befriending Scheme Coordinator for Volunteer Now, said:
“Loneliness is a silent epidemic here in Northern Ireland and we’re seeing a real surge in demand for our befriending service. At the moment, the support that we can provide is limited as a charity, but with the generous gift of a donation from the public, we could do so much more, and this is very much the main focus of our new campaign.
Through the ‘Give the Gift of Friendship’ campaign, we aim to raise as much funds as possible to deliver a range of bespoke initiatives to support the elderly and vulnerable in our communities at a very challenging time of year – whether that’s through providing a hot meal and a listening ear or delivering winter supplies packs to help keep an older person warm this winter, to providing in-person social get togethers to encourage new friendships, there’s a lot we can do to improve the lives of older people living in loneliness.”
For a donation of just £7.49, Volunteer Now can provide a hot meal and friendship for an older person at one of Volunteer Now’s regional get togethers taking place across Northern Ireland, whilst £10 could fund a ‘Winter Warmer’ box of essentials including items such as a hat, scarf, socks, hot water bottle and much more to help keep an older person warm this winter.
Volunteer Now is also calling for businesses across Northern Ireland to consider supporting the campaign as their charity donation this year, with a £500 donation funding two regional get togethers for older people this winter, giving them connection and friendship at Christmas time.
As well as donations, Volunteer Now is keen to highlight the benefits of becoming a befriender volunteer this Christmas.
“Befriending is very much a two-way street. It’s not just about the volunteer and what they are giving, it’s also about what they get from the person they befriend. My life has changed immeasurably for the better since I met Jeanette and I count myself very lucky to call her my friend.
This Christmas, we would encourage everyone to remember what’s really important at this time of year – community, friendship and being the friend indeed to a friend in need. Volunteer Now will be here to provide that listening ear, share a laugh over a cup of tea and spend precious time with older people every week, but we can only do so with vital support and I would encourage everyone to join with us and give the gift of friendship this Christmas”, added Victoria.
For more information, please visit www.volunteernow.co.uk or follow @VolunteerNow on Facebook or Instagram.