A MAJOR campaign to tackle loneliness and social isolation in the Highlands has had an extraordinary offer of help – from an 88-year-old woman in Spain.
The Reach Out campaign, launched last month by NHS Highland and supported by The Inverness Courier, invites people to sign a pledge to commit themselves to doing something of their choice to help make people feel less lonely.
A woman living in Spain has now made a pledge through NHS Highland's website to strike up a weekly email correspondence with anyone in Scotland who feels lonely.
Joanna Macdonald, the health board's director of adult social work, described it as "a fantastic gesture".
"Our campaign has been very well received throughout the NHS Highland area and beyond but to get an offer of help such as this is quite extraordinary." she said.
The woman, who made her pledge in 'Letter from Valencia', wrote: "Should any persons, feeling isolated and alone in Scotland and having a computer, would like to correspond by email weekly, I am prepared to dedicate time to ensure I regularly fulfil that commitment."
NHS Highland has directed the woman – who has asked for anonymity – to the voluntary organisation, Befrienders Highland, which works to improve the lives of people who are lonely and have experience of mental ill health, dementia, or carers of people with dementia. In the last 12 months, the charity has seen a 60 per cent increase in people asking for befriending in the last 12 months.
But anyone wanting to take up the offer from the Spanish woman should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Reach Out campaign comes in the wake of new research which reveals 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 aims to raise awareness of the issues and encourage everyone – individuals, organisations and companies – to take collective responsibility and make a difference to someone who is lonely.
It could be something as simple as chatting to an elderly neighbour twice a week, or signing up to be a volunteer with an existing organisation, to helping to form a befrienders' group or getting together a team to organise a social event.
The campaign was launched at Drakies Primary School in Inverness where pupils run a community café but NHS Highland plans to hold a series of regional launches over the next few weeks.
Since being launched, it has received recognition at both Westminster and Holyrood. Shona Robison, Scotland's secretary for health, wellbeing and sport, endorsed the campaign and pledged to do what she could to tackle loneliness in her community.
The issue was also highlighted at Westminster by Drew Hendry, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, during a debate about transport.
* Buy tomorrow's Inverness Courier to read how an Inverness group is preventing loneliness among individuals from ethnic minorities.
If you want to help tackle loneliness, please let us know what you plan to do. Whether it's inviting a neighbour over for a cup of tea or volunteering at a local community group, we'd love to hear about it! Simply email email@example.com with your name, where you live and details of your pledge and we'll publish a selection on our website. You can also download and fill in the coupon below (click link) and return to us at the stated address.