Published: 03/06/2016 16:42 - Updated: 06/06/2016 10:48

Sometimes all it takes is a friendly 'how are you today?'

Written byVal Sweeney

Alan Michael at the Smithton Church pop-in.
Alan Michael at the Smithton Church pop-in.

RETIRED policeman Alan Michael has made it his personal mission to ensure people do not feel lonely or isolated.

Over the years, he has been involved in a broad range of befriending projects from the Morning Call service for people living on their own to the Inverness Men's Shed.

Mr Michael is urging people to get behind the Reach Out campaign which aims to make a difference to those who are lonely by inviting individuals, companies and organisations to make a pledge. It could be something as simple as having a cup of tea with an elderly neighbour who lives on their own to volunteering with an organisation already trying to make a difference.

"Every day of the week you see loneliness around you," said Mr Michael of Balloch. "I feel very strongly the campaign will make a big difference to people's lives in the Inverness area.

"It's so very simple just to say 'good morning'. A lot of the time, that is all it takes."

Mr Michael has become increasingly aware of the issues of loneliness since he first began volunteering more than 30 years ago after he was forced to stop playing sport due to the long-term health effects of an attack earlier in his police career which left him with serious back injuries.

Spotting an advert in the Inverness Courier looking for a volunteer sports commentator on hospital radio, he offered his services and carried on for the next 22 years.

He also helped to set up the Talking Newspapers for the Blind in Inverness – a service which transfers newspaper stories to tape – and was chairman of the Scottish Talking Newspaper group for 20 years, helping to develop talking newspapers across the country.

"During that time I became very aware of how visually-impaired people and disabled people could become lonely and isolated," reflected Mr Michael who was awarded the MBE in 2007 for services to visually impaired people.

In 1989 – a year after taking early retirement from the police – he started Morning Call, a volunteer-run service which makes daily calls to people living alone and needing reassurance they will be contacted to make sure they are okay. Often that call will turn into a longer chat.

"We are doing about 70 calls every day of the year," he said. "In that, there are a number of people where we are the only person they will speak to over the festive period.

"So often, families and different generations don't always realise how lonely and isolated older people can be. All it takes at times is just a friendly voice and 'Hi, how are you today?' It is about being aware of other people."

Mr Michael has also been involved in starting up a visiting service in the north of Scotland and friendship groups for older people in the Inverness area including the Dunbar Centre Pop-In in Church Street and the Smithton Church Pop-in.

Two years ago, he started the Inverness Men's Shed, bringing together older men enabling them to share skills, take part in activities and make new friends.

"Quite often, people are initially not very sure, or apprehensive about going along," he said.

"It is scary at times for people but the fact they sit down and have a blether for an hour is something for people to remember for the next few days – then they look forward to coming along the next time.

"I see the need and the difference it makes to people's lives. I get a big kick out of people who have been feeling down and lonely and isolated and a few weeks later, they are a different person."

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 newsdesk@spp-group.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.

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