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Nicky Marr: Could we be doing more to check in on neighbours?

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky Marr Christmas
Nicky Marr Christmas

We’re inescapably on the countdown to Christmas, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Are we winning? I need to keep reminding myself that Monday is just one day, but who am I kidding?

With parties throughout December, the big day itself, followed by a grand tour to visit faraway family members, our Christmas celebrations should wind down just in time for us to start again on Hogmanay.

Part of me is as excited as a seven-year-old, but a tiny part of me is silently wishing I’d remembered that ‘no’ is a complete sentence. After a busy autumn with work, I’ve very little left in the tank.

But I’ll don my velvet and sequins, open the fizz, shake a few cocktails, cook, and feed, and repeat. And I will love it. Because there is little in life that’s better than spending time with the people who mean the most to us; family and friends, and friends who have become family.

Occasionally I wish it was less hectic, and then I remember how lucky I am to be surrounded by family and friends. Because life could be very different. And for many people it is.

Age Scotland has announced that the equivalent of one elderly person in every street in Scotland feels lonely most or all of the time, and that doesn’t change just because the calendar turns to December 25. Loneliness, a widespread problem before the pandemic, is increasing.

Age Scotland does what it can to fill the gaps, but there are local organisations who are quietly but determinedly making a difference too.

I recently caught up with Sue Hill of Morning Call. Last week Sue organised a Christmas social to bring together over 20 of their volunteers and clients from across Highland. Volunteers call the clients daily in a bid to combat loneliness and offer a measure of safeguarding to elderly people who live on their own.

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Each morning, between 8am and 10am, Morning Call clients will receive a phone call from a volunteer. For some it will be the only human contact they have in the day. As well as starting each day with a cheery chat, the calls are a safeguard. If a client doesn’t answer their phone, they will be called back, twice within half an hour. If there is still no reply, their emergency contacts will be called, and if they can’t be reached either, Sue will call the hospitals.

Failing all that, Police Scotland will make a welfare call. Morning Calls can, and do, save lives. For many clients, they say that knowing they will be called every morning gives them a feeling of security. If they were to fall in the night, they’d know someone would be checking in with them first thing.

There are currently around 18 volunteers on Sue’s books, and over 40 clients, who may be referred by social services, health and wellbeing organisations, GPs or the police – although clients can self-refer, and families can too. Last week’s Christmas lunch in Inverness, funded by Jennifer’s Fund, was the first time some of the clients and callers had ever met in person, although they may have been chatting to each other for years.

We’re a friendly bunch here in the north, but could we be doing more to check in on neighbours? I know I could. If you’d like to put your friendliness to good use and can spare a couple of hours every morning for one week in four, Sue would be delighted to hear from you – she’s on a recruitment drive for more volunteers.

In the meantime, as you are peeling tatties, roasting birds and sausages, changing beds, and doing dishes – again – this Christmas, just take a moment to be grateful for the presence of those around you. Of course they drive you round the bend. But Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

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