Project launched to combat loneliness in Harborough district

Support network...Centre, Neil O'Brien MP with befriending volunteers and clients at the Angel Hotel.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER NNL-170711-133632005
Support network...Centre, Neil O'Brien MP with befriending volunteers and clients at the Angel Hotel. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER NNL-170711-133632005

It’s a fast-paced modern world, and sometimes individuals in Harborough – particularly older people – get left behind and isolated.

That’s why Market Harborough-based charity VASL (Voluntary Action South Leicestershire) is working on a five-year project to combat loneliness across the district.

The charity was awarded a huge half million pound Lottery grant in June this year for their pioneering project called Community Champions.

And last week they celebrated national Befriending Week with friends and supporters – including Harborough MP Neil O’Brien.

Mr O’Brien said: “There are many strengths in modern society, but one of its weaknesses is the breakdown of many of the old structures and networks that supported people in times of crisis and need.

“Whenever we lose a strengthening element in society, we need to replace it with alternative systems as quickly as possible.

“Befriending schemes are a crucial part of this process, because they fill the gap that social erosion has left in the lives of so many vulnerable people.”

So far, VASL’s Community Champions project has created almost 50 matches between volunteers and the isolated.

VASL manager Maureen O’Malley said: “Rural isolation in Harborough affects many people.

“We ran a befriending project for 20 years but today’s world means that a new project had to be designed that could tackle all the different ways people are excluded.”

Rohini Corfield, Community Champions project lead, said this included visiting people’s homes, going with them to events, helping them rebuild a network of local contacts and improving their understanding of helpful digital technology, from emails to Skype.

“It’s about building up there social confidence” she explained.

The Lottery money is used to pay for three part-time members of administrative staff and to make sure volunteers have expenses met.

Now Neil O’Brien hopes to set up a Harborough District Loneliness Commission, to co-ordinate what is happening locally.

He said: “I look forward to making our community warm, welcoming and supportive for all residents, whatever their age and background.”