A BEFRIENDING service is urgently looking for volunteers to help tackle a waiting list of would-be clients across the Highlands.
The Visiting Service for the north of Scotland matches up volunteers to spend time with people who may be feeling lonely or isolated.
Currently, it has 44 volunteers but more than 20 people who are waiting to be allocated a befriender.
Alan Michael, who runs the service, is urging people to come forward and help fill the gap.
"We have a large number of men and women who are on their own and feel lonely and isolated," he said.
"They are looking for someone to go along for an hour a week or every two weeks for a blether.
"It makes a big difference to a person who is on their own and housebound. Sometimes it makes a big difference to the visitor.
"They get to know the other person and realise the difference it makes to their lives. Sometimes we get long-term relationships develop.
"This can be an all-win situation and as rewarding for the volunteers as it is enjoyable for the recipients."
Mr Michael said that when the service received a referral, it tried to match up like-minded visitors and clients.
"We try to match up people so they have similar interests or backgrounds so that is a good starting point for a conversation," he said. "Maybe they come from the same area, or perhaps they are a Gaelic speaker."
The retired policeman, who was involved in the introduction of the service 14 years ago, also started Morning Call, another volunteer-run service which makes daily calls to people living alone and needing reassurance they will be contacted to make sure they are OK.
"It has been going 29 years," he said. "It is free of charge 365 days a year for people to receive calls in the mornings.
"It has proved to be a lifeline for so many people."
He is always on the lookout for people to join the teams of volunteers who work on a rota basis, making calls each morning from Monday to the following Sunday every four weeks.
Mr Michael recalled a recent incident where one lady had not answered her morning call and the doctor was called out resulting in her being admitted to Raigmore Hospital.
"Between them, these two services make a significant difference to so many people’s lives," Mr Michael said.
All volunteers have to be over 18 years old and full disclosure checks are made.
Clients for either service can be of any age and there are no criteria to be accepted – as long as the organisers think they will benefit from free calls they are happy to include them.
NHS Highland, in conjunction with the Inverness Courier, launched a major campaign two years ago to raise awareness of loneliness and social isolation.
Entitled Reach Out, it came in the wake of research which reveals that loneliness can be as bad for people as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases the risk of premature death by 10 per cent.
The campaign invites individuals, companies and organisations to make a pledge to carry out a task of their choosing to address loneliness.
It could be something as simple as chatting to an elderly neighbour twice a week, or signing up to be a volunteer with an existing organisation, to helping to form a befrienders’ group or getting together a team to organise a social event.
Anyone interested in volunteering should write to the Visiting Service, 28 Culloden Road, Balloch, Inverness IV2 7HQ or call Alan Michael on 01463 790410.