A PHONE-BASED befriending service is running extra sessions to help isolated people following the festive break.
East Durham Trust will be opening up its doors tomorrow so volunteers at its Chit Chat service can make calls to scores of vulnerable or lonely residents who may not otherwise have anyone to talk to.
Since its official launch last month, its 10 volunteers have made more than 100 calls to needy people to whom a friendly voice at the end of the phone line can make all the difference.
Figures from Age UK say half of all people aged 75 and over live alone and one in 10 people aged 65 or over say they are always or often feel lonely.
East Durham Trust chief executive Malcolm Fallow said figures also show one in three elderly people say they don’t speak to anyone for up to five days in a row.
The service has recruited cheerful volunteers, or “buddies”, who are on hand to make calls and talk to isolated people.
Each of the volunteers has a small case-load of local people who have been referred by family or health professionals.
As well as checking on the welfare of individuals who have difficulty getting out and about, they also provide a friendly voice and listening ear.
Volunteers have received training in mental health first aid and gained specific knowledge of suitable referral agencies, including the Samaritans and Age UK.
Mr Fallow said: “The call recipients may have been on their own over the Christmas period and the volunteers will give them a ring and chat to them.
“They will often refer them to a handyman service, or sometimes it’s just about talking about last night’s episode of Coronation Street.
“It’s about social inclusion – one in three elderly people say they don’t speak to people for a full five days in a row.
“A lot of the elderly people say how much they look forward to a call.”
He said the festive period had caused a break in the service, so the trust’s base, at Community House, in Yoden Road, Peterlee, was opening tomorrow especially for the volunteers to regain contact with users of the service.
“It’s the first time in five years we have had a need to open during the festive break,” he added.
“It’s a testament to the volunteers who want to make the calls.
“We see all the positives about Christmas. But it sometimes accentuates the negative to people, particularly if they have lost loved ones and it brings it home to them.
“We are here to alleviate that and it brings out the best in humankind.”
Anyone who would like to volunteer for the project should contact Abby Thompson at the trust on (0191) 5693511.
The same number can be used for anyone who feels they, or a family member would benefit from referral to the service.