A CHARITY has launched a scheme to tackle loneliness at Christmas.

Age UK is handing out “Bags of Support” to older residents in Brighton and Hove and West Sussex at risk of loneliness this winter.

The cotton bags are filled with items such as tea, hot chocolate and biscuits, as well as information about local befriending services and events at Age UK centres in Sussex.

Helen Rice, chief executive of Age UK Brighton and Hove said: “We know that many older people often go a week without speaking to anyone and that’s just heartbreaking.

“No one should have no one this winter. We’re here to offer advice and support, so more people can chat, connect and make the most of later life.

“Please turn to us if you feel lonely, as we’re here for you.”

The Bags of Support scheme has been launched following research carried out by the charity, which estimates there are more than 3,500 lonely older people in Brighton alone.

Following interviews with residents, they found 40 per cent of participants were completely unaware of support services available for older people suffering from isolation.

One participant said their only monthly outing apart from supermarket trips is to a tea club, while another said they had “lost touch with it all”.

The goodie bags will be handed out at the Age UK centre in Prestonville Road, Brighton, as well as through the charity’s crisis team, who help transport people home from hospital.

Gary Hardley, head of community activities at Age UK Brighton and Hove said: “A large number of people we interviewed in Brighton were totally unaware of the services we offer, and in West Sussex it was the same. It was quite an eye-opener.

“If someone is lonely there risks to mental health, but also physical health.

“If an elderly, isolated person has a fall for example, it might be days before anyone knows they’ve had an accident.”

Mr Hardley said Age UK in Brighton has regular coffee mornings, Tai Chi classes and computer drop-in sessions.

In West Sussex, Age UK centres are in Crawley, Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath and Bognor Regis.

Age UK West Sussex and Age UK Brighton and Hove merged in July.

For more information, call the charity on 01273 720603.