The Reach Out campaign to reduce loneliness and social isolation in the Highlands has been given the backing of public sector organisations in the region.
It was launched two months ago by NHS Highland and the Inverness Courier in the wake of new research revealing that loneliness can be as bad for people as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases the risk of premature death by 10 per cent.
It invites individuals, companies and organisations to make a pledge to carry out a task of their choosing to address loneliness from befriending an elderly neighbour to signing up to become a volunteer with a charity.
The Highland Community Planning Partnership Board, comprising representatives from the health authority, Highland Council, Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Natural Heritage plus voluntary organisations, has now signed up to give its full support.
Member organisations will 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.
The partnership’s chairwoman is Councillor Margaret Davidson, leader of Highland Council and Independent representative for Aird and Loch Ness.
"Loneliness and social isolation is a significant issue that impacts on individuals, communities and services across the Highlands," she said.
"There is increasing evidence about the effects on health and wellbeing and the impact on demand for services which is why all board members are very supportive of this worthy cause."
She said community factors which influenced loneliness and social isolation included access to transport, neighbourhood safety and personality.
"Any breakthrough achievement must make a significant difference to our communities and there is huge potential to make a real difference by harnessing the efforts of our staff both in their professional roles and in supporting them to take action within their communities," Councillor Davidson said.
"In making this commitment to encourage staff to support the campaign, the community planning partners can make a substantial difference to the lives of many people."
She estimated Highland Council and NHS Highland had about 20,000 employees between them. "If we can get one in three signing up, that is a lot of people spread throughout the communities of the Highlands from one end to the other," said Councillor Davidson who urged elected members to make the Reach Out pledge, too.
"On a personal level, you can ask yourself is there someone living close by you don’t see very often and you know they are quite frail, or someone with mental health issues. It is about each one of us thinking whether you can make a real difference to someone’s life in your street or neighbourhood – and making it a longer term commitment, not just a one-off."
She also cited existing projects such as Beauly Cares, which runs a programme of activities from a walking group to a weekly lunch club, as enabling older people to live independently for as long as possible and helping to prevent social isolation. "Having a social network is more effective than taking pills," Councillor Davidson said.
She also said ways of preventing social isolation and loneliness should also be considered as part of the redesign of the council currently being carried out.
"Instead of spending money at the sharp end, it would be better to spend it at the preventative end," she said.
An interim report of the redesign work is expected to be ready by Christmas with recommendations going to the council by next March.
* People can find out more details about the campaign and how they can get involved at the following links: