Everyone must have been moved by the story of Terrence from Oldham, who broke hearts on BBC Breakfast when he revealed he had spent his last 20 Christmases alone. The reaction to his story was so heart-warming, with Dan Walker from the BBC and students from Oldham College making a surprise visit to bring him a Christmas Tree and sing him his favourite carol, Silent Night!

This wonderful story didn’t end there for Terrence, who had been overcome by emotion during the morning television story, as on Thursday evening, Terrence was invited by John Barrowman to attend the entertainer’s Fabulous Christmas Tour show at Sheffield City Hall.

Barrowman’s audience of hundreds treated Terrence to a special performance of “Silent Night” and, in a video filmed during the carol’s rendition, Terrence stands as he absorbs the stirring moment, holding his hand in front of his mouth in awe.

A massive well done to everyone who made such a special effort to bring ‘comfort & joy’ to Terrence. It was a fantastic story to share as we approach Christmas, the time for families, love, giving and sharing throughout the whole world.

There are lovely stories every year about people and communities taking so much time to go that extra mile at Christmas, and there are many unsung heroes who do it selflessly, without even thinking about it, who deserve so much praise.

Some examples of what is being done this year include:

Many Fire Services across the country are opening their doors to anyone who is on their own on Christmas day, including, amongst many others, the London Fire Brigade and the North Yorkshire Fire Service, with firemen at Harrogate Fire Station saying that “there are 100s of people who will be having a Christmas alone, so we are opening the fire station on Skipton Road on Christmas day, so the people of all ages, beliefs and backgrounds can get some hot food and company”.

Santa’s Seniors project, who collect gifts and distribute them to elderly people in the community in Kirklees was founded four years ago by Amy Guzman, after hearing a story about a fellow who was on his own. Last year, the response was remarkable and they handed out three gifts each to 728 people. The project had 22 volunteer gift wrappers last year, as well as help from Brownies, Rainbows and Cubs.

There are also many schools who run Christmas Projects engaging with and bringing so much pleasure to local older people and, from Channel 4’s ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, we saw what a massive difference this makes to older members of our communities.

These are wonderful examples of how, with a little effort, we can make such a difference, but there is so much more that can be done as, according to Age UK, more than 200,000 elderly people are expected to spend Christmas alone this year.

“Getting older brings new challenges – receiving a life-threatening diagnosis like dementia, losing the person who’s been your rock your whole life or struggling to manage the stairs in the only place that feels like home,” said Age UK ambassador Dame Helen Mirren.

“To make matters worse, so many who are struggling have nobody to help them.”

Not everyone is able to commit to a major project, but we can all do our bit and make someone’s life a little less lonely.

Take time to regularly check on elderly neighbours.

One of the simplest things we can do, is to look out for our neighbours and ten things to do and look out for are:

  • Speak with them regularly
  • Get their phone number and details of their family/carer/close friends/social worker
  • Ask if they need any help with shopping, or chores

Things to be aware of:

  • Have you seen activity in the last 24 hours?
  • Are curtains opened and closed each day?
  • Is the post/milk/paper taken in each day?
  • Are lights being turned on and off?
  • Are deliveries being taken in?
  • Are visitors being greeted?
  • If they have animals, are they visible and behaving normally?

What to do if you are concerned:

  • Ring the door bell, or knock on the door (the bell may not be working)
  • Look and call through the letter-box
  • Look through the windows
  • Try telephoning them
  • Contact their family/carer/close friends/social worker (they may be away)
  • If you still can’t contact them, call the police and ask them to carry out a safety and welfare check. If necessary, the police will break in to the house/flat to gain access

Whilst we were researching this blog, we were staggered to find that there is no definitive guidance on how to check on vulnerable neighbours. So, please feel free to share this checklist with family, friends and colleagues, so that as many people as possible can be protected from isolation and loneliness this year.

At Care Home Finder, we believe it is so important that we look after our more vulnerable older people and, with the right support throughout the year, we can ensure that many more people can live a full and independent life. However, if you believe that someone needs support, please do call us on 0345 853 0300 and we will be happy to have a chat about what options are available.

Remember a granny, or grandpa, isn’t just for Christmas, loneliness happens all year round, so be vigilant, without being intrusive, or interfering, because we will all be old one day and need love, care and companionship.