Gerald Green lives in a small cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Oldham.

After the death of his wife Gerald had relied on his cat, Lucky, to keep him company.

But when Lucky died, Gerald became increasingly isolated, and his health began to suffer.

That changed when he met Nazia Rehman, who works with the British Red Cross.

Nazia encouraged him to open up about what he was feeling, and even brought round a new kitten to keep him company.

“It’s just put me on top of the world,” said Gerald, smiling. “Now I’m the best fella you could meet.”

Gerald Green and Nazia Rehman

“I felt lonely all the time”

Like so many people, Gerald’s problems with loneliness began after bereavement.

“I’d lost my wife years ago,” he said. “I held everything in. I never told anybody about anything.”

Though his son would call on the phone most evenings, his cat Lucky was his only real companion. When she died, Gerald was at a loss.

“I felt lonely all the time and I cried every day,” he said. “I saw Lucky walking through the hall and scratching the back of the settee. But the poor thing was gone, you know.

“It was that bad, him downstairs said, ‘are you alright?’

“He said, ‘I’ll look after you. Just come downstairs and give us a knock’, you know. But I didn’t.”

One-to-one support

Three months on from when they first met, Nazia is sitting on the sofa next to Gerald.

The contrast in the room from her first visit is stark.

“Today when I came the lights were on and you know you’ve got your nice clothes on,” she said. “You’ve really started to look after yourself and you feel brighter.”

“When I was [first] coming I was a bit worried how you were going to be feeling because the housing officer said you were in a bit of a bad way.

“When I came here you were very emotional,” she continued.

“[I was] very nervous, very shaky,” added Gerald. “Dubious you know.

“In the car on the way up I was just thinking about Lucky. And then when we got out, I just started, you know, talking to you, and you were talking back.

“You drove me all over,” he added gratefully. “You took me here, there and everywhere.”

Nazia’s work as a Red Cross community connector can be as simple as taking someone to the park and having a chat.

Typically community connectors and their teams of trained volunteers meet one-on-one with people experiencing loneliness and social isolation over a three-month period.

Together they find interests and activities to help people connect with others in their local area. They support people to build their confidence and independence so they have the chance to find new hobbies and build friendships that last.

The results can be life-changing.

Nazia Rehman

A kitten called ‘Nazia’

Over their three months together, the pair went for regular walks in the park. Nazia also took Gerald to Mind for some specialist support.

But there was one thing that really made the difference.

“Although you were feeling better as the weeks went on, it was the kitten that was the breakthrough really,” said Nazia, smiling.

“Up until the kitten arrived you were gradually feeling better every week because you were talking about your feelings.”

“It was really good. I really enjoyed it,” said Gerald.

“But the day you brought the kitten round, ooh,” he said, shifting excitedly in his seat.

“Every time I go out she’ll go to sleep underneath [the chair]. I’ve been in about ten minutes and she’ll stick her head round and she has a little meow. It’s only slight. She’s so gorgeous she is.

“Now I’m the happiest person on Earth. Thank you Nazia, you’ve made me very happy. You really have.”

Gerald was so happy, that he asked Nazia if he could name the kitten after her.

“Yeah I was actually quite surprised,” said Nazia. “It’s the first time someone’s actually named a cat after me.

“I still don’t think I did much but obviously, whatever I did I made such a difference to you. I’m just thrilled that it’s changed your life around.

Mr Green

“It meant a lot to you”

Back in December 2016, we published research in partnership with the Co-op, revealing that a staggering nine million adults across the UK regularly feel lonely.

Since then, our connecting communities services throughout the country have brought people like Nazia and Mr Green together.

In many cases, having a regular visitor, linking people up to wider community groups or an occasional phone call can make a huge difference to someone’s quality of life.

“I was really down,” said Gerald. “But now I just feel wonderful. I feel so great I smile.

“You really brought me out of it. I know it was only a cat but –

“It meant a lot to you,” said Nazia, interrupting.

“Yeah. It really did,” said Mr Green.