John Ball knows what it’s like to feel lonely.

His second wife, Marie, died last year. John spent Christmas without his family or friends.

John, aged 71 from Plympton in Devon, knew that Christmas without her would be a difficult and emotional milestone.

“I knew what was coming because I’d already been through it once,” John said. His first wife, Janet, had died when she was just 44 years old.

“I knew how lonely I would feel without Marie. I didn’t want anyone to feel obliged to invite me to Christmas dinner, so I took myself away on a coach holiday to Nottingham.

“Yet simple things like watching people get off the coach in couples as I followed along by myself really brought it home how lonely I was.”

Feeling lonely is a huge problem – and we can help

Last year, a study by the British Red Cross and Co-op revealed that more than nine million people across the UK often or always feel lonely.

A lack of social connections has also been reported to be as damaging to health as obesity. It has been linked with a shorter lifespan, high blood pressure, risk of dementia and symptoms of depression.

To help, the British Red Cross has introduced Co-op funded Connecting Communities services. These services support people in almost 40 areas across the UK where we found high levels of need.

Focused on helping people connect to local activities, the services provide practical and emotional support to help anyone aged 18 or over.

Learning how to manage again

As well as losing two wives, John had a quadruple heart by-pass when he was 49 years old. Through all of this, he found ways of managing by himself.

“I keep myself busy playing my guitar, drawing or gardening, and I play golf once a week but I do still feel isolated.

“You know that when you go into the house and close the door you’re on your tod.

“You have to think differently when you’re by yourself. You can’t go out on a night and have one too many because you have to get yourself back home safely.

“When I cut my grass now, I always leave the gate open because if I were to fall or have an accident no one would know I was there.”

John is now a Connecting Communities volunteer

When John saw the Red Cross service advertised he thought his personal experiences would enable him to help others who were dealing with loneliness.

He’s signed up as a Red Cross volunteer and is hoping to start supporting someone in his community soon.

“I didn’t become a volunteer for any fantastic reason. I just knew that I would have empathy and understanding for people who are feeling lonely.

“I thought it would be nice to sit down with someone and just have a chat; to help someone along a bit and think about how they can start moving forward.

“I know that looking backwards is much more painful than thinking about taking that next step.

“If I can help someone move on, maybe by joining them for the first time they try a new activity, then I feel I will be making a positive difference.”

Across the UK, the Red Cross are helping thousands of adults of all ages reconnect with their communities.

Our research report, Trapped in a Bubble, shows that 75 per cent of people who are regularly lonely don’t know where to turn for support.

Whether you’re struggling with life’s demands or simply don’t know where to go for a friendly chat, Red Cross volunteers like John are ready to help

Do you need support – or can you help?