A HOUSING association project dedicated to tackling loneliness and isolation in older people across Liverpool has helped hundreds to enjoy a happy Christmas. A variety of locally organised events from festive bingo to Christmas parties have been supported by Helping Hand, a project run by Plus Dane Housing to identify and encourage tenants and residents to spend time with others and take part in social activities. Community events at the Florrie in Toxteth, Goodison Park and sheltered accommodation schemes across the city gave hundreds of older people the chance to eat well, socialise and have fun over the festive season. Plus Dane’s Helping Hand co-ordinator Jackie Connolly set up the pilot project in 2013. Working with partners around the city including the council, other housing associations and local businesses, it grew to create and support activities for older people throughout the north Liverpool region. Through her contacts and events staged by both Helping Hand itself, as well as many more organised and led by a wide variety of collaborating partners across the city, Jackie is able to signpost older people at risk of boredom, isolation and loneliness towards the kind of activities they genuinely want to participate in. By talking and listening to the older people in sheltered schemes and the communities served by Plus Dane, Jackie can promote and schedule events and services that have become so popular that they are always oversubscribed. These include the regular Blue Bingo afternoons at Everton Football Club, cabaret afternoons, educational projects, health and wellbeing days, day trips and most recently, Christmas parties and the provision of winter warmth assistance packs to help those who may be struggling over winter. An intergenerational gardening project called Green Fingers and five knit and natter groups are among the more practical social activities that have proved to be extremely popular, as well as first aid courses. A weekly shopping bus visits four sheltered schemes across north Liverpool to help residents get out and about. Jackie said: “Helping Hand is a platform for our older people to have a voice and be recognised – to say yes, you do count, you are valued, and we do care. It is about talking to our older people, but most of all listening to what they want and acting on it; getting them to join in and make a difference to their lives. It is all about collaborating- we have so many fantastic partners, and what we do is having an impact on this wonderful city.” Helping Hand focuses on elements identified as necessary to improve the lives of older people, including health and wellbeing, staying safe, and being positive. Jackie continued: “It is not just about events. Helping Hand is about our older people’s health, about taking care of yourself and keeping active, and also about learning it is never too late to be involved.” The project began after securing funding to develop a tablet app to help older people with online shopping, which was tested at every stage by our older people across the city.