A charity that combats social isolation and loneliness has seen a near 20-fold increase in people asking to volunteer during the coronavirus crisis.

Some 684 people registered interest in Re-engage’s new volunteer programme in March, compared with the usual 30-40 monthly sign-ups.

PG Tips is funding the training of 2,000 volunteers who will phone the elderly and the isolated during the Covid-19 outbreak. The Call Companions will make more than 100,000 calls as part of the initiative.

There are more than 2.2 million people over the age of 75 who live alone in the UK, the charity said.

Re-engage’s Chief executive, Meryl Davies, said: ‘People are showing us just how much they care at this time and we are truly grateful that PG Tips is joining us on this very important campaign.

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‘We know from our work that loneliness and social isolation is a reality for many older people.’

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‘In these strange and frightening times, as older people are advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus, we know that their lives will be even harder.’

Ms Davies continued: ‘The average age of the people we work with is 85, they live alone, and would not have regular contact with the outside world if it weren’t for our volunteers.

‘We want to make sure that every older person who needs us has access to regular contact and companionship, at a time that is incredibly difficult for them.’

The charity said it has seen an 877% increase in traffic to its sign-up webpage and a huge rise in people saying they want to help on social media.

The online search term ‘care in the community’ has risen by 180% in the past 30 days, according to Google Analytics, it added.

It comes as a ‘volunteer army’ of 750,000 members of the public signed up to help services and the isolated in Britain’s struggle with Covid-19.

Before the Covid-19 lockdown measures, the charity put on regular social activities such as monthly tea parties, to support nearly 8,500 guests.

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Social distancing has put a stop to face-to-face events, and loneliness – already an issue before the pandemic – is likely to increase as people isolate at home.

Patrick, a former Salvation Army driver, said he usually experiences ‘months of misery’ during the festive season and on his birthday as he has nobody to celebrate with.

The 78-year-old, who lives alone, used to get out to ride the bus and watch the world go by, but his routine has been stopped by the lockdown.

Meet-ups he used to attend with people of a similar age, organised by Re-engage, have been cancelled.

He said: ‘The buses have stopped running, they were my way out. The high street looks like 6am on a Sunday morning, it’s a very strange and worrying time.

‘This week was the first time I’ve been out in weeks and it was scary.

‘I’ve been in and out of hospital since January, and a few weeks ago I couldn’t get my medication.’

He continued: ’If it wasn’t for a kind soul, I don’t know what I would have done. I do my best to not get lonely but it’s getting really hard.

‘Before all this, I’d say I was quiet but I just wanted a friend. Not a partner or anything, a friend. Someone to have a meal with, go to the pictures with.

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‘Now I don’t know what’s going to happen.’

The public are being urged to sign up to volunteer, donate or refer an older person who may need support.

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