The impact of loneliness can “take people down like a pack of cards” - and it is being felt right across Lancashire.
That is the message from a councillor who has spent the past two years touring the county exploring the issues facing older residents.
But as Lancashire County Council’s champion for older people, Joan Burrows says she has been heartened by the dozens of groups in the region which are designed to prevent loneliness from setting in.
“It’s unbelievable the number of people who are lonely,” County Coun Burrows says.
“It can happen so quickly, because people lose confidence when they aren’t in regular contact with others.
“If you’re struggling with being on your own because you have lost a partner or had a change in circumstances, it can have a physical impact as well as a mental one.
“There is a statistic which shows that being lonely is the equivalent of somebody smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
County Coun Burrows, who is writing her second annual report on ageing in Lancashire, says she has now visited around 100 different projects which give older residents a purpose - and can’t praise them highly enough.
And the Penwortham East and Walton-le-Dale member hopes the county council will eventually be in a position to provide a directory of some of the organisations on its website.
“There’s certainly no shortage of provision and it is being well-used - one of the first groups I visited was packed.
“I thought they had all turned up to hear me talk - but the organisers said, ‘Don’t flatter yourself, it’s like this every week!’ Apparently, there is a waiting list for people to attend.
“So I’d encourage anybody who feels lonely to seek out these groups in their area - and anybody who has some spare time to volunteer with them.
“In many cases, people’s lives are being really fulfilled by the work which is being done.”
“I’M NOT SURE I’D STILL BE ALIVE WITHOUT THIS PLACE”
When John Barlow lost his wife Sheila twelve years ago, it left him without a lifelong partner - and his best friend.
The Chorley resident, then in his late 60s, had two grown-up sons living nearby, but was soon feeling the effects of loneliness.
“Individually, my wife and I didn’t have many close friends, because she was my best friend and I was hers - we did everything together,” John recalls.
“Maybe that’s not healthy because of how hard it hits you when the other person passes away, but I wouldn’t change the relationship we had together.
“I was resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t be getting out much, because I had nowhere to go and nobody to go with.”
Three years after losing Sheila, it was a carol concert which tempted John to visit the Seasons luncheon club in Longton, part of the Crossgate Church.
At first, he suspected the warm welcome he received may have been a one-off - but after just a couple of visits he was convinced that he had found a place where he felt at home.
“I just couldn’t get over how lovely the people were - and I’ve since made many lovely friends,” says John, who turns 80 next month.
Looking back to the years after he lost his wife, John says he could never have hoped that life would hold such happiness for him again.
“I’m not sure I’d still be alive without this place - you’re just so reluctant to go looking for something else in life when you’ve had a bereavement.
“I didn’t think it was possible to look forward to anything again and now I have something to look forward to every week.”
John, who now lives in Hutton, is both a visitor and a volunteer at the luncheon club, helping others of all ages who were in the same position as him a decade ago.
For Ron Farrington, senior pastor at Crossgate Church, John's wider involvement in the group came as no surprise - he says it comes down to some of the most basic needs which all people have.
“They want to be needed and they want to be known,” Ron says.
“So people who come here will find that we know their name and can ask about them and what’s happening in their life.
“And they can help out here as well, by laying the table or whatever it might be - and that’s why people come, because they will connect.”
Around 50 people each week find support at the Seasons club, which provides a free lunch every Wednesday at the Longton Sport and Social Club and every other Friday at Crossgate’s 'Landmark' building on the outskirts of Preston city centre.
While each session begins with a short church service, Ron stresses that the doors are open to those of all faiths and none.
“It’s the sense of community and having someone to talk to which is the most important thing.
“We never think we will be lonely one day, because most of us have other people around in our lives. We can wonder what it would be like if we lost someone very close to us - but you don’t understand until you find yourself in that lonely place.”