FOR elderly people living in rural areas, social isolation and loneliness can be a real issue.

The Campaign to End Loneliness says rural areas have a unique set of circumstances that can exacerbate the social isolation of older residents, including lower spending on social care and greater reliance on car ownership.

The campaign explains that loneliness in older people can lead to poor health, a loss of independence, and lower quality of life – it’s such an issue, that the Government created the Commissioned for Rural Communities to try and combat the problem.

For Margaret Williams, social isolation became a problem after her husband, who she had spent five years caring for, died.

Margaret realised that other people in Ovington, where she lives, were also suffering from loneliness. Her solution was to approach a local restaurant and ask if she and some others could come in, meet, drink tea, and chat.

She said: “I lost my husband two years ago, and I was just sitting in four walls.

“A lot of other people in the village were doing the same, so I came down and spoke to Ken Froggatt at the Winships.

“I asked him what his quietest day was and he said Monday, so we came in and had tea and biscuits.

“We now meet every Monday. There’s a group of 10 that come every week and some others that join in now and then.

“It’s just tea and chat and swapping ideas ­– some people have lunch and a drink too.”

The Ovington Friendship Group has now been running for a year, meeting every week in the Winships restaurant.

As well as their weekly meetings, they’ve also been on a few coach trips together, and took part in a project called, ‘When I was Young’.

The project saw members of the group write down their memories of their youth, which were then all presented at the village fete in the summer.

Owner and chef Ken Froggatt explained why he allowed the group to use his restaurant.

“I’m new to the village,” he said. “I had a chain of restaurants called Sonny’s Italia but I sort of went into retirement and sold them, but I wanted to do something small and lifestyle, so I set the Winships up just over a year ago.

“Margaret approached me and asked if they could use the restaurant, and I said of course. It gets them out and they see what I’m doing here. Some of them are people who wouldn’t have got out on their own. It’s a social event for them.”

Last Wednesday, the friendship group celebrated their first birthday party at the Winships with a special meal, featuring a cake made by Ken. Margaret added: “Nothing is too much trouble for Ken.

“There’s a lot of little villages around here, and there’s a few that are much further out than we are and they’ve got to look after themselves. There’s a lot of lonely people in the area – perhaps they can take something from our idea and start their own groups. It’s massively helped me.”