Aware of the shocking statistics on the impact of loneliness and social isolation on health and well-being, Richard joined forces with the Volunteer Centre (VCWB) and Connecting Communities in Berkshire (CCB) to host a conference on how to tackle this issue at Fair Close on Friday 8th February.

‘Loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and makes it more likely that you will suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression. It affects so many people and does not discriminate by age, geography or status. I wanted to kickstart a conversation here in West Berkshire about how we can tackle this problem in our communities. There are some fantastic initiatives already going on and the aim was to get as many people as possible together to share information and build on this.’

Around 90 representatives from parish councils, village halls, churches, primary care and the voluntary sector attended the ‘Beyond the Front Door’ conference, chaired by Garry Poulson of VCWB. They heard presentations from Mims Davies, the Minister for Loneliness, speaking via video link about the Government’s Loneliness Strategy; Matt Pearce, Public Health lead at West Berkshire Council, and Dr Bal Bahia from the Burdwood Centre in Thatcham who spoke about the implications of loneliness on health and well-being.

Garry Poulson, Director of VCWB, introduced the Befriend West Berkshire and Village Agents schemes and Tim Parry, Chief Executive of Connecting Communities in Berkshire, spoke about initiatives happening elsewhere including the Kent Coffee Caravan and the Warm Hub Project in Northumberland. Representatives from the Mortimer Village Partnership, the Bradfield Community Shop and Leckhampstead Village Hall spoke about the effects these projects have had on their communities before an open session for contributions and questions from the floor.

Richard said, ‘It was encouraging to see so many communities in West Berkshire represented here today and I hope that everyone will have taken away at least one or two new ideas and made a few new contacts. This issue affects many people in many different ways and we can all be part of the solution.

‘We were delighted that Fair Close offered to host the event as they have such long-term experience of reaching out to the elderly in and around Newbury and we are very grateful for their hospitality.’