As the official countdown to Christmas begins, and thoughts turn to present-buying, turkey and time spent with family and friends, today United Response is launching a campaign and fundraising appeal to raise awareness of an issue that affects many people, particularly at Christmas time, but which often goes unspoken: that of loneliness and social isolation.

Christmas is a time of celebration, but for some people in the local community it can be an incredibly difficult time. There has been much in the news about the effects of social isolation on older people, but much less about the impact on people with disabilities or mental health needs.

How you can help us combat social isolation

We recently carried out some research among the people we support and found that, while most people are incredibly positive about the idea of community and taking part in activities in their local area, many find it difficult to build relationships without support. Many also told us that weekends and bank holidays, such as Christmas - when community facilities are often closed and there are fewer planned activities - can be particularly lonely times. 

Last Christmas, with small amounts of funding, some of our services put on events to make sure that the people we support and others in the community were not on their own over Christmas. The events were a huge success. As one person said:

"I am so glad I came. I wasn't looking forward to today and didn't want to be on my own. I will come along to some of your other groups now I have met a few people."

Today, we are launching an appeal to raise money so that we can put on more events and projects of this kind, not only at Christmas, but throughout the coming year. Our aim is to provide people with opportunities to get to know and build lasting links with people in their communities, as well as challenge perceptions and understanding of disability and mental illness.

Community Advent Calendar

Combating social isolation is not something that we can do alone, however, and that is why we are also launching today our Community Advent Calendar. The advent calendar provides 24 simple and fun ideas for getting to know more people in your local area and is something that everyone can take part in. We will be blogging each day about the idea behind each door.

Why not print off a copy of the advent calendar and keep it on your fridge as a daily reminder? You could set a challenge for yourself and others to see to see how many of the 24 tasks you can complete!

Day 1: Say hello to everyone you meet

We start off today with 'say hello to everyone you meet'. This may seem like an obvious idea, but it can be all too easy to walk past your neighbours in the street without saying anything, particularly if you are in a rush or may simply feel shy. It is small things like this, however, that can make a huge difference and can lead to regular conversations, invites to drop by for a cup of tea, and relationships being built.

We would love to hear from you about the ways that you have got to know people in your local community. Please email us at [email protected] or tweet us @unitedresponse using the hashtag #combatisolation.

We would also ask you to support our work by making a donation. Just a small donation can make a huge difference, and allow us to put on more events and projects to bring people together.

Sarah Bartlett, head of press and appeals.