Blaise Tapp: Offer the hand of friendship at Christmas

LONELINESS: Blaise says we need to stretch out a hand of friendship to those who need it.
LONELINESS: Blaise says we need to stretch out a hand of friendship to those who need it.
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We are not yet out of November, but it really is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

The standard schmaltzy television adverts have already become tediously familiar but there is still one whole month to go until we are allowed to legitimately eat chocolate for breakfast, come to blows over Trivial Pursuit and balance Pringles on Uncle Jimmy’s eyelids, the minute he passes out after Celebrity Strictly.

I endured a prolonged phase of going through the motions over the Christmas period but my festive mojo returned eight years ago, the same time that I became a father for the first time.

Now, like countless other parents, I really do relish the countdown to December 25 and have promised myself that I will make a conscious effort to savour every magic moment along the way.

The office party is booked and the countless social gatherings are on the calendar so December is looking very promising but it is worth remembering that there are hundreds of thousands of people who really aren’t looking forward to the big day because it is highly likely that they will spend it on their own.

Loneliness is a real issue in our society with an estimated 1.2 million described as chronically lonely and, although it is impossible to know a precise figure, charities have previously said that 450,000 people spend Christmas Day on their own.

I should imagine that the vast majority of those won’t be spending it alone out of choice so this particular statistic makes for tough reading.

We are lucky enough to live in a society where there are plenty of organisations that offer help and support to those who are less fortunate than ourselves but there are not nearly enough drop in centres or volunteers to provide company for nearly half a million lonely souls on the most significant day on our calendar. This rests on us as society - neighbours, friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers to stretch out a hand of friendship to those who need it.

Last week comedian Sarah Millican announced that she would be organising her Christmas #joinin Twitter campaign which aims to connect people who won’t be tucking into turkey and all the trimmings while surrounded by loved ones.

It is another fine example of how powerful social media can be and hats off to the commendable Millican for doing something really positive with her huge fanbase but, even though I am a huge fan of Twitter, 280 characters really doesn’t beat good old fashioned human contact.

Society needs to go back to basics and we need to start taking more of an interest in our communities. But don’t just take my word it, just ask Professor Jane Dacre, who is the President of the Royal College of Physicians.

She has argued that Britain has “drifted away from humanity” and expects the state to look after the elderly by providing them with a hospital bed rather than TLC. The professor believes the intervention of relatives or neighbours could ensure that old people are keeping warm and eating when they should, meaning that they stay away from hospital.

There are many decent folk who already do this but they are the exception. The majority of us could take a leaf out of their book and make a real effort to look out for somebody less well off than ourselves.

It could be the best present that we give.

Celebration of Rhinos legend John Atkinson's life following the church funeral servic at  the Headingley Pavilion. 1978 Challenge Cup final captain David Ward speaks.
19th January 2017.  Photos: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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