A SCHEME set up to enhance the lives of the elderly and homebound in the Staffordshire Moorlands is supporting more than 500 people - and expects the number to grow.
Moorlands Home Link, operates across Leek, Cheadle and Biddulph, as well as the surrounding villages.
It has run a telephone befriending service, known as Phone Link. as well as a volunteer befriending visiting service, since it was set up in 1986.
Home Link Manager Helen Wainwright said: "We offer a variety of services to help combat loneliness, including a day centre in Cheadle, social groups in many Moorlands villages, befriending and Phone Link.
"We are now in our 28th year and, we know from our own experience, that older people often feel undervalued and isolated.
"Surveys tell us that more than half of the UK's over 75s live alone and, with more and more people living into their 90s, we know demand for our services is going to grow and grow."
Older people who would like a visitor in their own home are linked on a one to one basis with a Home Link volunteer.
Many also receive a regular telephone call from volunteers, who all work from home and make calls 365 days a year, including Christmas Day.
Befriending co-ordinator Diane Sellers said: "Christmas is often the loneliest time of the year for elderly people living on their own.
"Many have only their television for company and they really appreciate the telephone calls and conversations with volunteer visitors who provide them with a link to the outside world when they become housebound through illness or lonely after bereavement.
"We are always in need of more volunteers as visitors are in constant demand.
"We'd love to hear from anyone who can spare just an hour a week to visit an elderly person for a cup of tea and a chat."
Volunteers come from all walks of life and inspirational Yvonne Old, who celebrated her 92nd birthday in September, has proved that age is no barrier to helping out in the community.
"She also knows from her own experience how loneliness can harm a person's health.
Yvonne not only helps out each Wednesday at the Moorlands Home Link day group for elderly people in Blythe Bridge, but she also supports her peers with regular phone calls and visits through Home Link's befriending service.
The veteran volunteer reckons she gains as much as she gives to her volunteering.
She said: "Loneliness can be a very frightening thing. I ended up in hospital being treated for depression brought on by loneliness after a period of illness.
"I had undergone an operation and, not being fit enough to set out tables any more, I didn't think that I'd be of any value to anyone but I was told that Home Link needed people who could talk and listen to help run the Phone Link befriending scheme.
"I've done that ever since and I've not looked back." Housebound Marion Beardmore in Leek enjoys a weekly phone call from Yvonne and Forsbrook pensioner Val Buckley, who has found herself isolated after suffering a stroke, looks forward to sharing a cup of tea and a chat in the comfort of her own home with the sprightly pensioner.
Val, aged 70, said: "We get on just great and, as I can't walk much now, I really enjoy having someone come and talk to me at home. Yvonne is really great company."
Joy Cartwright, aged 89, from Leek, also struggles to get out because of her arthritis.
She said: "I enjoy having both phone calls and visits from Home Link volunteers.
"I think it's a really marvellous service and when Jan, my visitor, comes we just talk non-stop.
"We hardly draw breath. It's a real highlight to my week."
There is no charge for either phone calls or visits and anyone interested in finding out more about receiving services or volunteering with Moorlands Home Link can call 01538 750511.