The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 21st December:
In my last column of the year, I want to take the chance to wish everybody here in Barnsley a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
It’s also an opportunity to say thank you in advance to all of the people working over this festive period to help make our lives that little bit easier, whether that’s in our emergency services, shops, or pubs.
Over this period we have the chance to spend time with others; sharing the festivities with family, evenings with friends, and spreading a bit of Christmas spirit in what we know has been a difficult year for many.
But it’s also so important that at this time of year we help others who aren’t as fortunate – and particularly those who don’t have as much company as many of us are lucky to have.
Because it’s estimated around 2,500 here in Barnsley suffer from loneliness.
Across the UK, it’s suggested over 9 million people – almost a fifth of the entire population – say they are regularly lonely.
Whilst we often associate loneliness with elderly people, it really can affect anyone at any time.
As you may expect, it’s bad for our mental health.
But it has also been shown to have the same effect on our physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
And according to research by the Co-Op it can cost UK businesses a staggering £2.5bn a year as a result.
In fact, it’s such a problem in our communities that recently the Office for National Statistics stated we are the loneliness capital of Europe.
Fortunately, there are some groups in our community who are already doing their best to make sure nobody is alone on Christmas.
Age UK Barnsley, for example, and others are offering a free Christmas lunch to provide companionship and company for people who might otherwise have none.
For anybody struggling with loneliness, I encourage you join them.
And for the rest of us fortunate enough not to be alone, I implore you to look out for those who are.
Invite your elderly neighbour in for a drink, encourage your old friend to join you for a mince pie, and let’s make sure everybody in Barnsley has somebody at Christmas.