If there is one thing we learnt from the pandemic, it is that the strength of our relationships sit at the heart of what makes us happy and well.
Loneliness is something I care deeply about because the bonds that tie us together also bring us the deepest joy. When people do not feel those bonds, they struggle. When this happens repeatedly, our neighbourhoods and public services struggle too.
Luckily, there are swathes of brilliant local groups who mend these bonds by bringing people together to learn new things, try new activities or to simply have a good long chat. Groups like the University of the Third Age, CAMEO and Tandridge Voluntary Action, staffed almost exclusively by volunteers but doing wonderful work to tackle loneliness by creating friendships.
This work often goes unseen or unappreciated. But over the past few weeks we've seen what can happen when local people rally around the unsung heroes that devote their time and energy to running these groups.
We've seen public meetings packed full of people who want to support the Westway Centre in their hour of need. At the time of writing, over 74 people have now donated to their GoFundMe – raising over £2,500 in the process.
I set up the Friendship Project back in July to tap into this widespread support and help these groups carry on their vital work. Through the project, I will be hosting regular meetings with a network of voluntary community groups in Tandridge so they can share stories, ideas and updates about what they are up to. Our first networking session was attended by lots of volunteers from across the district. They got to know each other and heard from Seema Kennedy, the former loneliness minister, about her work with the Loneliness Commission.
The second aim of the Friendship Project involves fundraising. I've been told by lots of these groups that they are not short of volunteers to carry out day-to-day jobs, but they really struggle to find the money to pay for things like new equipment or transport for a day out.
We will be raising money to distribute to these groups, so they can better fulfil their aims of tackling loneliness by creating friendships. If you are able to, I would be incredibly grateful if you could donate online.
(Above: MP for East Surrey Claire Coutinho)