The following appeared as my Christmas column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 22nd December:
In my last column before the holidays, I want to take the opportunity to wish everybody a very merry Christmas.
It might come as no surprise to hear that this time of year is my favourite, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
It’s a chance to spend time with family, catch up with old friends, indulge in a few too many mince pies and a festive tipple, and generally be thankful for what we have.
But whilst Christmas is a time of great cheer and celebration, it’s also a time for giving and considering others, and at this time of year it’s important to remember those who are less fortunate.
And unfortunately, many people in our community simply don’t have friends, family or company to spend this festive season with.
For instance, around 2500 people here in Barnsley suffer from loneliness, and at this time of year it’s even more difficult for them.
And whilst the elderly are particularly at risk, loneliness really can affect anybody. Young and old, male and female, and so often those who we least expect.
In fact, such is the problem across the UK that Office for National Statistics believes we are the loneliness capital of Europe.
That’s a scary thought, not least because loneliness has such a profound impact on those suffering.
It’s bad for our mental health, as you may expect, but research shows it also has such a damaging effect on our physical health, too.
It’s something I’ve brought up in Parliament, where I praised the work of community groups like Age UK’s Barnsley Christmas friendship café in tackling loneliness, but it’s something we can all help with.
So once again, I wish everyone a very happy Christmas – but let’s not forget about others in our community less fortunate than us whilst we’re at it.
Have a chat to the stranger at the bus stop, invite an old friend over for a mince pie and a drink, and let’s make sure nobody in Barnsley has nobody at Christmas.