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Can you give the gift of community this Christmas?

Christmas is usually a joyful time of the year when family and friends come together to celebrate and exchange gifts, but it is likely to be very different this year.

Restrictions and limitations caused by the coronavirus pandemic may impact the usual Christmas cheer and celebrations.

In normal circumstances Christmas can be a very lonely time for many people of all ages and not only is loneliness an unpleasant experience; evidence also suggests it is as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The Mid and East Antrim Loneliness Network is committed to supporting its population to live well within cohesive and well-connected communities and has developed a number of initiatives to help address the issue.

The network launched in December 2019 and is made up of a range of community voluntary and statutory organisations who all work together to prevent and address loneliness.

During the first lockdown Mid and East Antrim Loneliness Network was instrumental in supporting those feeling lonely and isolated. Recognising that loneliness impacts on people of all ages, the network was able to avail of a range of initiatives, including art packs, afternoon tea boxes, salad growing kits and emotional wellbeing boxes for young people.

This autumn after receiving funding from the Northern Health Trust the network has been able to fund six projects including:

• Larne Community Development project Re-Connecting Communities 25 “Afternoon Tea Boxes”

• Good Morning Carrickfergus Winter Gift packs

• Good Morning Ballymena 300 Doorstep friendship calendars and “Thinking of You” cards

• Northern Area Community Network (NACN) 40 Homemade cards for Christmas - £450

• Redeeming Our Community (ROC) Larne Community Helpers “Keeping Well at Home” packs

• MEA Borough Council 3 Connected “Walks and Talk” Walks.

Yvonne Carson, Health and Wellbeing Manager (Social isolation, Loneliness) with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, commented:

“We are delighted to have been able to fund a creative range of projects especially coming up to Christmas and they will make a big difference to the people involved.”

Marjorie Hawkins, Chair of Mid and East Antrim Loneliness Network, added:

“The impact of loneliness is now recognised as being detrimental effects to our health and wellbeing. If each of us could commit to do one small thing this Christmas to reach out to those who are socially isolated and lonely we could help change the course of these individual’s lives.”

In this season of good will, please spare a thought for those in your community who may be feeling lonely this Christmas. Here are some simple things you could do that would make a big difference to someone’s life!

You may also have other ideas of your own. Please bear in mind Covid-19 guidance and the need for you and others to stay safe.

  • Deliver a Christmas card/gift to a neighbour and stop for a chat

  • Buy or bake some minced pies and visit someone who lives on their own

  • Check on elderly neighbours over the festive period especially in bad weather to see if they need help with food supplies or their prescriptions

  • Become a volunteer in your community

If you or someone you know is in distress please contact Lifeline 24/7 FREEPHONE on 0808 808 8000 for confidential help and support.