A NEW scheme is being set up in a bid to combat loneliness and isolation in and around Cockermouth.

Linking Lives is a national charity with more than 30 befriending projects throughout the country. This will be the first one in Cumbria.

The scheme will be launched next month by Churches Together in the Cockermouth Area (CTiCA) and has the backing of Cumbria County Council, Allerdale Borough Council, Cockermouth Rotary Club and the Cinnamon Trust.

Terry Peate, chairman and operations manager, is the pastoral care co-ordinator in the Cockermouth area team.

"I have a heart for old people and realised through visiting quite a lot in my role I wanted to do something big. I wanted to set something up along the lines of the Foodbank," he said.

"I'd like to think Linking Lives will go along a similar pathway and grow and cover a wider area than Cockermouth in the future.

"I want it to be all the churches working together, reaching out to the community. For too long churches think they're welcoming people when they attend church but we are not very good at going out into the community and seeing people who do not come to church."

The service can be used by anyone, from new parents to pensioners. It expects to get people referred by the NHS, social services, other partner organisations and families.

"This is mainly about people who do not have a connection with church that find themselves alone, perhaps because of bereavement or because their children have moved away for work or they have retired," said Terry.

"This is not necessarily about older people. Being lonely can have the same impact on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day."

The group will organise home visits and social events and activities as well as signposting to other agencies.

It would like to hear from anyone interested in volunteering or able to provide financial support.

"This is a two-way thing as the volunteers also get a real benefit as a link friend sharing quality time," said Terry.

"We have enough funding for our first year but our aim is to continue fundraising, so we would like to hear from anyone that can help us financially."

Sue Gorman has been appointed as scheme coordinator.

“It’s a bit like a dating agency really, where the churches provide most of the volunteers who will visit their link friends – individuals who have been referred into the service by health and social care professionals together with other sources, including self or family referral," she said.

Terry has been working with Linking Lives at national level in order to prepare for the service to start on October 1.

"Everyone at Linking Lives has been extremely helpful and professional and has provided an excellent website, robust recruitment and safeguarding procedures together with expert advice on building a sustainable service," he said.

There will be a formal launch at Cockermouth Town Hall on October 29. James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle and patron of Linking Lives will preside.

For more details, contact cockermouth@linkinglives.uk or 07957 515140.