The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 27th December:
I would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone here in Barnsley a happy new year. In the last couple of months I have spoken to thousands of Barnsley residents on their doorsteps. I have met so many people who have told me about their lives and the wonderful community spirit we have across our area.
I have also heard stories of loneliness, particularly among our elderly residents.
Age UK has estimated that there are nearly 5000 people living in isolation in Barnsley.
This is a particularly concerning figure as social isolation and loneliness have been shown to be as harmful as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
As a community we can do our bit to help those who suffer from social isolation during the festive period.
From supporting the efforts of community groups such as Agewell in Wombwell who host guest speakers, offer field trips and hold raffles and bingos to inviting round a neighbour for a cuppa, we can help members of our community who are lonely.
Our local councillors have been doing their best to combat elderly loneliness with council-commissioned activities for elderly residents.
The last two years I have hosted a Great Get Together Event here in Barnsley, to bring people together. This was inspired by the late Jo Cox MP who campaigned on the issue loneliness. That work goes on with charities, businesses and more public awareness about what we can all do to tackle this issue.
If you know anyone who is struggling with loneliness it might be worth popping in to check on them, doing a simple task like helping carry shopping bags or offering to accompany them out and about if they are nervous to go alone.
I am proud to belong to a community that is so generous. This time of the year can be one of the best, let’s make sure that everyone in Barnsley has someone to enjoy them with.