How to overcome loneliness in the run-up to Christmas

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Talking to a friend: Jackie Parker, a Licensed Trade Charity volunteer, expresses her need to help others
Talking to a friend: Jackie Parker, a Licensed Trade Charity volunteer, expresses her need to help others

Related tags: Licensed trade charity, Christmas

More than nine million people in the UK say they are always or often lonely but almost two-thirds feel uncomfortable admitting to it, according to research by the British Red Cross and Co-Op.

The problem is often compounded at this time of year, with an emphasis on sharing festive fun with family and friends. 

As Christmas approaches, we talk to one of the volunteers who regularly gives up their time to help remedy loneliness amongst those who have worked in the drinks trade. Jackie Parker, herself a former licensee, is a telephone befriender for the Licensed Trade Charity, who also helps current and former pub and bar workers with a range of issues from health to housing, and money problems to education.

  • What is your licensed trade background / connection?

My husband and I were in the licensed trade for a number of years as licensees, including working for Whitbread. For the 12 years before we retired, we were steward and stewardess of a Conservative club.

  • Why did you choose to become a telephone befriender, and how did it come about?

Initially I wanted to be one of the Licensed Trade Charity’s volunteer visitors who assess beneficiaries who need help, but I don't drive so that wasn't possible. Then I was at a fund-raising committee meeting with the charity where the subject of telephone befrienders came up and I volunteered because I wanted to be of some help to those who needed it.

  • Who do you talk to, and how often?

I call up two ladies, one who is 90 and one in her 70s, and one man in his 70s. They were all licensees in their careers and I chat to them every two weeks. I’ve been doing this for four years.

  • What are your befriendees’ situation in terms of becoming isolated and needing support?

The ladies have both lost their husbands and so live alone. One of them had lost hers not long before I started to call her and was finding it very hard. She has a daughter with a family who lives quite close, but I think sometimes people would rather talk to a relative stranger than family. The lady who is 90 seems to have had a really good life and has been to lots of places. Sometimes when we speak, if I mention somewhere I've been she'll say “I've been there”, then reminisce about it. The gentleman is divorced and doesn’t live anywhere near his family, or hear from them. He was in the Army and had a bar abroad, then licensed premises in England and when he retired he decided to move nearer to his brother, who he sees from time to time. If I ask if he’s heard from his family, he always says no and that he isn’t bothered, but I know he is and is very lonely.

  • How does your call help your befriendees?

I hope my calls give them something to look forward to. It gives them that reassurance they have someone who will listen to them and they can tell their worries or problems to. I try to make them laugh and bring a little sunshine into their lives. I also hope they know that if they have a problem and I can’t help them, I can point them in the right direction. Both my ladies now attend clubs for senior citizens that were recommended by the Licensed Trade Charity and look forward to going out and meeting other people.

  • What changes have you seen in them since the start of your befriending?

I find that they are all more at ease now, more open to chatting, and feel they can talk to me about anything – like talking to a friend.

  • What do you get out of it?

I get real pleasure from knowing I am bringing something into their lives that has been missing, and that I am at least helping a very small number of people overcome their loneliness.

  • How has it changed you and your outlook?

I am very fortunate that I have a husband and family and a lot going on in my life, but being a befriender has helped me realise that life doesn’t always stay that way. I now realise that should anything change, I will make sure find somewhere where there are other people I can communicate with. When I go out now I’m always aware of older people and try to have a word with them or see if they need help. 

  • What tips would you give to someone feeling lonely and isolated?

If they are alone or feeling lonely and can get out and about, I would say go out and mix with people. Join a club or go to the supermarket, a café or go and sit in the park, even just stand at your garden gate – anywhere that there are other people around. Someone will always talk to you. 

  • What advice would you give to someone wondering what they can do to help others?

Anyone wanting to help others should go out and do it. If they don’t know where to start, I would say go to a church or church hall where there is always something going on, or people who can give advice. You can also Google volunteering opportunities, or get in touch with the Licensed Trade Charity to find out how you can help reduce isolation in those who used to be in the trade.

If you are feeling lonely or isolated and would like to discuss having a regular call from a befriendee, or would like to know more about joining the team of volunteers who make the calls, contact the Licensed Trade Charity’s 24/7 helpline on 0808 801 0550.

Related topics: Health & safety

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