It may be the season of good cheer – but thousands of older people expect to be lonely this Christmas.

Research by Age UK found nearly a million people aged over 65 do not have anyone to celebrate Christmas with this year.

Far from being a time of joy the festive period is set to leave around 675,000 pensioners feeling fed up about being alone, with as many as 970,540 saying they would not have anyone to share the day itself with.

Thousands have also reported they were feeling depressed or anxious while around 400,000 said they felt forgotten.

In a bid to combat the widespread problem, Age UK is urging people to call or visit someone struggling with loneliness this Christmas – saying it could be the best gift they give.

Dame Helen Mirren and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Len Goodman are among those who are backing Age UK’s appeal.

Dame Helen said: ‘It’s heartbreaking to hear that so many older people don’t have anyone to share Christmas with this year, especially after the past 18 months everyone’s had.

‘A friendly phone call or a visit for a cup of tea with an older person in your life could really brighten their day and help them feel connected again.’

Len said: ‘Sadly there are a lot of lonely older people in our communities all around us and we should, especially this year, do all we can to reach out and connect with one another.’

He urged people to check in on an older friend, relative or neighbour to see how they are doing.

Age UK is also appealing for donations to its Make Christmas A Little Brighter campaign, to help it meet the growing demand for its telephone-based services.

Among those who have been helped by the charity’s Telephone Friendship Service for the past five years is a 71-year-old Micheal, who lives alone.

Michael, who has been receiving calls from a volunteer called Gemma, said: ‘Loneliness is devastating.

‘It feels like having a prison sentence for 30 or 40 years, you’ve got no one to talk to or say anything to.

‘I always look forward to my call with her [Gemma] when Friday comes around, she is a diamond.’

Connie, 94, who also lives on her own, said she felt ‘scared’ that her voice was not working properly as she had hardly spoken to anyone during lockdown.

She said the colder months brought extra stress as she worried about falling over in the winter weather so doesn’t go out much.

Connie said: ‘I don’t know what it is exactly that makes them so important.

‘I guess it’s having another person who is interested in me – that’s wonderful.’

Sadly, it’s not only older people who are reporting feeling lonely.

Childline said its helpline counselling sessions to youngsters about loneliness peaked over the festive period last year, with the service delivering a record number of nearly 600 in December alone.

Between April 2020 and March 2021, there were 6,039 counselling sessions about loneliness marking an all-time high for a single year, according to Childline which is run by the NSPCC.

This is an increase of 49% over the past four years.

The NSPCC has launched its Here for Children Appeal calling for donations, so Childline counsellors can answer a child’s call for help this Christmas.

Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen said: ‘The festive period can be especially difficult for children who are struggling with their mental health or are in homes that are unsafe.

‘Given the impact of the pandemic, it is no surprise that this year we’ve seen record numbers of children get in touch with us about loneliness.

‘The lockdowns exacerbated these feelings for some young people, especially when schools had to close, and they couldn’t see the friends and family they loved and needed.’

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