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Lonely this Christmas? Not with warm-hearted readers behind our festive friendship campaign

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For many of us, the joy of Christmas this year will come from simply being together after a tumultuous 2020.

The five-day grace period to gather with loved-ones in a secure “bauble” provides something to look forward to amid the ruins of abandoned celebrations.

For thousands of people across Scotland though, the relaxation of the rules makes no difference: they will still be spending the holidays alone.

Age Scotland revealed last year that almost one in three of the country’s 350,000 pensioners were eating their festive meal alone – the equivalent of one in every street.

Add the isolation imposed by the pandemic and charities are warning of an “astronomical level of loneliness” this time around which will only be worsened over winter due to shorter, darker days, poorer weather and varying restrictions.

According to the Office of National Statistics,  loneliness hit its peak the week after the clocks went back. Its research shows 8% of adults said they were “always or often lonely” at the start of November – a total of 4.2 million people. That is the highest since the lockdown in March and almost twice the average before Covid-19 struck.

Take action now to brighten up someone’s dark winter

One in 20 adults – a frightening 2.6 million people – had not left their home for any reason in the previous week.

Nor does this by any means only affect older people – in fact those aged 16 to 29 were twice as likely as the over-70s to be experiencing loneliness.

With those worrying figures in mind, the Press and Journal set about working out what we could do to help – and the Connect at Christmas campaign is the result.

Between now and the new year, we will shine the light on the charities, volunteers and groups working to tackle isolation among all ages.

Some have been battling for decades to make sure no-one is alone that doesn’t want to be, others have been born out of a resurgent community spirit in the face of what we have all endured over the last eight months.

Their stories are at once heartbreaking and cheering, full of desperation but also of redemption.

Most of all though, we hope that they are inspiring because we cannot make this happen alone; we need you, our readers, to join us.

Could you do something to help an isolated person in your community? Pick up a neighbour’s shopping, clear a drive of snow, call a forgotten aunt, pop a Christmas card through a stranger’s door or drop off some baking to the young family down the road.

There are no end of ways to make a connection – maybe look forward to spring, and pledge to cut the grass or help an older person clear out their garage?

Don’t wait for a pandemic or a weather crisis to check in on one another.”

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland.

Younger readers can get involved by getting creative. Inspired by the hugely popular rainbow trail earlier this year, we want to see snowmen of all shapes and sizes popping up in windows across the north and north-east to raise a smile.

All these things can spark a conversation, and that’s what Connect at Christmas is all about.

Age Scotland CEO Brian Sloan

As Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, points out, people might be very surprised at the friendships that are struck up as a result of simple acts of kindness.

He gives the example of one man who offered to help his neighbours during the treacherous weather conditions that struck in the winter of 2018.

“The gentleman admitted he had only ever said hello to these neighbours, but the Beast from the East pushed him into checking on them properly. He struck up a relationship with two of them, going to the shop for them and clearing their driveway.

“He said to me ‘I was disgusted that it took a storm for me to do that. We’ve become friends and they’re really interesting people. What did it take that when I’ve lived beside these people for years?’”.

That is, he says, quite common.

“It generally takes something to prompt an interaction, but Age Scotland believe it should be a societal type of thing: don’t wait for a pandemic or a weather crisis to check in on one another.”

Make a connection this Christmas

Age Scotland is just one of the groups that will be included in an online directory as part of the Connect at Christmas campaign – giving you the chance to find out more, maybe make a donation or even look into becoming a volunteer yourself.

We are also aiming to bring some cheer into the homes of those who may find themselves alone.

Thanks to arts groups, sports clubs, bands and charities, we have created a video advent calendar to add some sparkle to your day.

With many innovative ways being found by others to keep traditions alive – from online pantomimes to drive-in carol services – we are also compiling a diary of virtual events happening across the region and beyond to keep you entertained.

And, because we’re aware that it is the period after Christmas Day itself when many people struggle, we are also thrilled to announce we will be hosting a free online quiz. DC Thomson’s Steve Finan – author of the Red Army, journalist and sports podcaster – is quizmaster, and the rounds will have something for everyone. We hope you’ll join us.

We know Christmas will be different for everyone this year. We know it is going to be even harder for those who already struggle. So join with us and make a connection  – check in on someone in your community, or, if you’re feeling lonely, reach out. There is help out there.

Together we can make this a merrier Christmas and a happier new year.