A VOLUNTARY befriending service for isolated older people living in and around Minchinhampton has been launched by Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl in partnership with the Rural Community Council (GRCC).

The aim of ‘Friends for You’, which was recently unveiled at the Holy Trinity Church in the town, is to help older people lead a better quality of life by making them feel cared for and secure, as well as less isolated and lonely.

There is research to suggest that being isolated and lonely could be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl will fund the six month pilot project aimed at tackling the problem, while GRCC will be responsible for managing it on a day to day basis.

“The pace of life these days is such that it’s all too easy for older people to be ignored and overlooked, which is especially sad when they often have much to offer the rest of the community," said Mr Surl.

“Schemes like this change lives by helping to make people feel secure and cared for as well as part of the communities in which they live.”

Friends For You will offer regular social contact at a time when a person might be feeling cut off from their community perhaps through ill health, bereavement or just because friends and family are scattered.

Co-ordinator Sue Black, who also oversees People For You, the befriending scheme operating in Tetbury, Fairford and Lechlade, said: “Working elsewhere in the county we have experienced first-hand the benefits befriending can bring and it is exciting to be able to offer this service in Minchinhampton.”

“The negative impact on a person’s sense of well-being is well documented, with research suggesting that being isolated can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The grant from the Commissioner’s Fund will help us to reduce loneliness and isolation."

Councillor Andrew Gravells, former cabinet member for older people at Gloucestershire County Council, added: "Initiatives like this are fantastic. By bringing together older people and local communities we can tackle loneliness and make a real difference to the lives of older people.

“Not only that, the volunteers will find the work fun and learn a lot from the people they're making friends with. It's a two way conversation here.”