UK political leaders back campaign to tackle Christmas loneliness
Senior political leaders across the UK have volunteered to call people facing the prospect of Christmas alone in support of a campaign aiming to tackle loneliness during the festive period.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford and Labour’s deputy Leader Angela Rayner have all backed the #ChristmasTogether initiative.
Mr Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds spoke to 69-year-old Christine Bound, from Cramlington in Northumberland, on Tuesday, as part of the “Check In and Chat” service run by NHS Volunteer Responders working with Royal Voluntary Service and the GoodSAM app.
Ms Bound, who described the call as “wonderful”, has two severe lung and heart conditions requiring her to isolate during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Her husband died 12 years ago and all three of her children live away from home.
She told the Prime Minister during the 15-minute call: “The one thing I’d like to say, Prime Minister, is that the whole country has pulled together”, with Mr Johnson replying: “It has, hasn’t it?”
In a video message posted to Twitter, the Prime Minister urged the public to “give someone a bell this Christmas”.
“We’ve seen an incredible outpouring of kindness and compassion this year and by pulling together again in that spirit we can stop people feeling lonely,” he said.
Mr Johnson added: “This year has been tough on everyone, but it has been doubly – quadruply – tough on those struggling with loneliness and those who have had to take extra care to keep safe from the virus
“And so sometimes simply hearing a friendly voice on the other end of the phone can help immeasurably – even if it’s just for a moment or two.”
The #ChristmasTogether campaign is supported by members of the Together Coalition, which includes Royal Voluntary Service and other charities.
They urge the public to reach out to someone who could be facing loneliness this Christmas or to help others by becoming an NHS Volunteer Responder.
Ms Sturgeon spoke with 70-year-old Chris Smith, from Springfield in Fife, Scotland, who is registered blind, this week.
Mr Smith had a stroke in April and after being discharged spent lockdown alone at home, with support from a Kindness Call volunteer from Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland.
“It was great to speak to Chris. We talked about the passion he has for food and how much the calls he shares every week matter to him,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“It’s clear that the kindness calls make a huge difference and have really helped Chris at a difficult time.
“Words will never be able to describe how tough this pandemic has been for people across the country. But even small acts of kindness like a phone call to someone who may be feeling lonely can give so much hope.”
Mr Drakeford called 60 year-old Colin Elliott, in Rhondda Cynon Taf, South Wales, who has shielded alone at home throughout the pandemic due to a health condition.
He receives weekly “Safe and Well” calls from Royal Voluntary Service volunteers which he said have “made him feel much less isolated”.
“Please reach out to those you know who might feel lonely. A quick chat with a friend, family member or neighbour can do the world of good. This is a testing time for all of us, but no one should feel lonely this Christmas,” Mr Drakeford said.
Ms Rayner spoke to Janice Meaeds, from Peterborough, whose underlying health issues mean she has been shielding.
Ms Meaeds lives alone after her mother suddenly died and relies on volunteers for shopping and companionship.
“This pandemic has had an impact on all of us, but there is no doubt that it has been especially tough for those who have had to face the last year alone,” Ms Rayner said.
“It breaks my heart that people who have been isolated all year will be lonely this Christmas, so I urge everyone to please pick up the phone and reach out to people who may be struggling and feeling lonely.”
Catherine Johnstone, chief executive of Royal Voluntary Service, said it was “already seeing a rise in requests for help as we approach the festive period and vulnerable people are inevitably feeling isolated”.
“This Christmas is likely to be tough-going for the most vulnerable in our communities and many will be spending it on their own.
“The help of volunteers is needed more than ever before so please do step forward to volunteer if you have time to connect with someone and bring a little festive cheer.”