A RED Cross study looking at the effect of loneliness in North Belfast has led the charity to introduce a new programme to help the vulnerable.

The study, released this week, has found that the problem is at epidemic levels locally and more support is needed. The research identifies key triggers that can disrupt lives and create a situation in which loneliness becomes the norm, including becoming a new mum at a young age, facing ‘empty nest syndrome’ or retirement, experiencing long-term health issues or mobility limitations, dealing with bereavement and going through a family breakdown such as divorce or separation.

In the wake of the publication, the Red Cross has announced plans to offer support to the approximately 200 people in North Belfast who need help.

This will be rolled out as part of a wider initiative with staff and volunteers ready deliver new services in 39 locations across the UK and Ireland, reaching 12,500 people. Trained workers known as ‘Community Connectors’ will be tasked with outreach. They and their teams of volunteers will provide up to 12 weeks of intensive, person-centred care, identifying relevant activities, interest groups and services in North Belfast to help people gain confidence.

Support-at-home services will also be offered to around 600 people across Belfast who are identified as being at risk of chronic loneliness. They will support existing Red Cross support-at-home services in Belfast which already provide short-term practical and emotional support at home, helping people regain their independence in situations like returning home after a hospital stay.

Sharon Sinclair from the local Red Cross said they hoped the Co-Op-funded programme would have a significant impact.

“North Belfast has been chosen as one of the locations for our new Co-op-funded community connector service as it’s an area we’ve identified as having gaps in support,” she said. “Our Community Connectors will recruit a team of volunteers who will work with each person to agree goals towards regaining confidence and independence, and provide practical and emotional support to help them achieve these goals.

“This is a crisis we cannot ignore but if we come together it’s also a problem we can try to solve. Our research shows that life transitions are key triggers for loneliness.

“We need to focus on these moments and work together to help those suffering from loneliness and social isolation, by responding quickly and helping people to recover once they’ve hit crisis point.”

The research showed that almost 70 per cent of people in the north believe everybody has a duty to help people in their local communities who might be experiencing loneliness. The British Red Cross is this week launching a nationwide volunteer recruitment drive, to sign up around 500 volunteers to support the community connectors in this vital work.

For more information or to sign up visit: redcross.org.uk/tackleloneliness