Some 19% of people in Manchester fear they may be lonely this Christmas, according to a survey commission by The Big Give for the Christmas Challenge.

Anne Pheasey, 71, from Miles Platting, Manchester and Trish Cartner, 30, from Rochdale, have become great friends since being matched though Manchester Cares one-to-one friendship programme in April 2020.

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Manchester Cares is one of the 900 charities taking part in this year’s The Big Give Christmas Challenge, meaning that all donations made to the charity between November 30th and December 7th will be match-funded.

The two women regularly chat on WhatsApp and over the phone for hours at a time, and meet every few weeks for a meal – they’re also planning to go to the football soon.

Anne signed up to the Manchester Cares network in 2018 as a way of making social connections in her community and has since been to 183 social clubs.

When the pandemic hit, these social connections became more important but harder to maintain. Fortunately the pair were matched just before the first lockdown and kept in touch regularly via phone. They were able to meet in-person again in June at the Hip Hop Chip Shop after almost a year of not seeing each other in-person and since then have been exploring the best of Manchester’s food venues together.

Anne, who is a retired care worker and lives alone said: ‘Trish and I can talk about anything and we have quite a lot in common – last year she was moving house and I was selling mine – so we could share trials and tribulations. Trish is into art and I’ve recently discovered I can draw the odd thing so we talk about art too. We love to talk about the murals and street art around Manchester.

‘Our age difference means we can learn from each other. I can learn about the younger generations – I’ve found that younger people are much nicer than you read about in the papers.”

Trish, who works as a collections coordinator at Manchester Hip Hop Archive, runs charity The Crimson Wave and lives with her partner Jonny and dog Phife said:

‘I hadn’t heard about Manchester Cares before my friend began working with them – but as soon as I heard about the concept, I wanted to be involved. Although I was living in the Northern Quarter at the time of sign up and had a good work and social balance, I felt that I lacked meaningful connections with people in my community.

“The move from a small village in Rochdale where everyone knows everyone to a busy hustling and bustling city centre where I didn’t know my next door neighbour was a tough transition for me.

Manchester Cares not only provided a space where I could meet new people, but also where I could try new experiences and learn about the great community spaces around me.Throughout the pandemic, the Love Your Neighbour programme became a real lifeline for me – knowing I had somebody to check in with on a regular basis when access to friends and family was limited was a really enjoyable & much needed connection.

‘”Me and Anne can talk for hours, catching up with each other on day-to-day life, recent social clubs we’ve attended with Manchester Cares, as well as music and movie recommendations. I’ve really enjoyed the development of my relationship with her, it feels like I’ve known her for years. We’re never short on conversation.

“Anne reminds me to keep exploring and keep trying new things! It always inspires me when I speak to Anne and she tells me about the different social clubs she’s taken part in. She has an incredible energy and outlook on life – she’s my reminder to live life to the full and to explore new opportunities that come my way.”

Isabel Rivera from Manchester Cares said:

“Manchester Cares brings older and younger neighbours like Anne and Trish together to share time, laughter and friendship with one another through group social clubs and a one-to-one friendship matching programme called Love Your Neighbour.

‘The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted younger and older neighbours’ mental and physical health. Around 39% of UK adults don’t think their feelings of loneliness will go away after the coronavirus crisis. Yet, 11.9 million people in the UK lack digital skills to get connected online and 52% of those people are aged over 60. During the darker, colder winter times, when it’s harder to get outside, bridging this digital divide is critical to social inclusion and creating a more connected community in Manchester.

‘That’s why Manchester Cares is taking part in The Big Give to raise money to bring older and younger neighbours together through technology as well as in-person. Between January and March 2022, Manchester Cares will use the money they raise through The Big Give to mobilise younger volunteers to give in-depth tech support to upskill their older neighbours.

‘Because we know that loneliness can’t be alleviated through technology alone, we’re also taking part in The Big Give to fundraise for 36 face-to-face winter social clubs this festive season, support 60 one-to-one friendships like Anne and Trish through our Love Your Neighbour programme; and our Outreach programme, that will help us find and connect with neighbours who are most at-risk of isolation this winter.”

Alex Day, Director of The Big Give said: ‘Organisations such as Manchester Cares have never been more important, forging new connections between people when so many people have felt isolated by the pandemic.’

‘Every penny donated to our partner charities, including Manchester Cares, during The Christmas Challenge will be match funded, meaning charities can reach even more people.”

To donate to The Big Give Christmas Challenge, visit https://www.thebiggive.org.uk/christmas-challenge/

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