Fire chiefs have thrown their backing behind a major campaign to cut loneliness and social isolation in the Highlands.
The Reach Out campaign, launched by NHS Highland and The Inverness Courier, aims to raise awareness of the issues in the wake of new research revealing loneliness can be as bad for people as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases the risk of premature death by 10 per cent.
The campaign is encouraging everyone, whether as individuals or as an organisation, to take collective responsibility and make a difference.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has signed up as a supporter and will also encourage those within the service to consider pledging their support as individuals too.
John MacDonald, SFRS area manager, said research had shown people who felt isolated and lonely were affected negatively both psychologically and physically. There was also evidence that socially isolated people were more susceptible to fire risks.
"If we can do something to help them and which improves those outcomes and inequalities in life, then we want to be there," he said.
The SFRS is a member of the Highland Community Planning Partnership Board, comprising representatives from NHS Highland, Highland Council, Police Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Natural Heritage and voluntary organisations who collectively signed up to support the Reach Out campaign.
Member organisations agreed to encourage as many staff as possible to get involved by pledging to make a difference whether it is in their professional roles or personally in their communities.
Mr MacDonald said that as part of its work, the SFRS carried out home fire safety visits but there were other benefits, too, such as identifying the potential for slips, trips, falls and scalding incidents particularly for vulnerable people.
It could use the close working relationships with other members of the Highland Community Planning Partnership Board to refer individuals, where appropriate, to other agencies.
"As part of community planning, the fire service is committed to the objectives of community planning," he said. "We want to support anything which gives a positive outcome.
Mr MacDonald felt the SFRS was well placed to support the campaign. "We have a fantastic footprint across the Highlands with all the fire stations," he said.
He maintained there was a strong sense of community spirit within the stations which, apart from Inverness, rely on retained crews.
"There is no question that retained firefighters have a real community focus," he said. "It is a service provided by the community for the community. They never cease to amaze me and they never fail to deliver when asked."
The Reach Out campaign, which invites people to make a pledge to carry out a task of their own choosing to help someone who may need support, will be promoted within the region’s network of fire stations.
"It is voluntary," Mr MacDonald acknowledged. "It is about making that pledge to do what you can. You only need to help one person to make a difference."
* People can find out more details about the campaign and how they can get involved at the following links: