Fran Frankland, founder of Just Company, which offers companionship to people throughout South Lakes and beyond, urges people to offer help to anyone likely to be feeling lonely

SPENDING quality time with family and friends is something that many people look forward to the most during the festive season.

But what about those in our community who have no family and friends to enjoy the festivities with?

It's a problem that is especially prominent within the elderly community and it's an issue that will only get worse in our ageing population. According to Alzheimer’s Society, social isolation and loneliness present one of the most significant health and social care challenges of the 21st century, increasing someone’s risk of dying by 29 per cent.

The shocking statistics also revealed that lacking social connections can damage a person’s health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. According to the charity, half a million older people don't see or speak to anyone for more than six days a week.

The nature of my role as co-founder of Just Company means spending a lot of time with the elderly and those who feel lonely.

I’ve seen first-hand the detrimental effects that isolation can have on a person. These feelings can create a foundation for mental health issues to develop and potentially even lead to developing certain diseases, such as dementia.

Sadly, it’s too easy for us all to ignore or forget somebody. We're all busy with our day-to-day lives and we might not even be aware that our neighbour hasn't had a meaningful conversation with somebody in days, weeks or months.

Put yourself in their shoes. Try to imagine what it's like to feel lonely and isolated every day. Can you imagine not having the support of close family members and friends? Or for the only face-to-face conversation that you have every week to be the one with the cashier when you pick up your shopping?

For someone who feels isolated, this is why the festive season can be the most difficult.

It’s hard to escape the warm and fuzziness of the celebrations – even at home, as most TV adverts feature happy, smiling families gathering together. The very nature of the Christmas season is about loved ones and togetherness.

However, there are some easy and practical ways that we can all make a real difference to the lives of our local community and neighbours.

You could pop round to a neighbour and have a chat over some festive treats, such as mince pies and hot chocolate.

Throughout South Lakes, there are several superb Christmas events, such as carol services. Activities such as these can be a lovely way to help somebody get out of the house and enjoy an event that they might not usually go to alone.

Many restaurants now offer a community Christmas lunch or dinner in December. Again, you could offer to take a neighbour along, or go yourself – it’s a lovely way to meet local people.

If there’s room at your dining table this Christmas, you could invite someone along who would otherwise be on their own all day. We’ve done this before and it was a lovely way to celebrate the festivities with a new friend.

Modern technology means that people can still communicate easily with family and friends who are far away. But someone who isn’t tech-confident might struggle to use tools such as Skype or FaceTime. If you’re aware of someone in this situation, offer a helping hand – you could show them how to use these tools yourself and there are also local courses that teach basic IT and communication skills.

The thought of people feeling lonely at Christmas is heart-breaking. Let’s all do everything we can to make sure we’re helping those in our community who are at risk of loneliness and isolation this December.