An appeal has gone out for vital befrienders, as figures show there are about 38,000 lonely older people aged over 65 in Norfolk.

As Age UK marks Befriending Week, statistics reveal that loneliness can be just as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Befriending Week runs until November 7 and in light of the event, Age UK Norfolk, is reaching out to the public to find new volunteers to support its befriending service.

The Age UK Norfolk befriending service offers people aged 50 and over companionship by phone.

A befriender from the charity reaches out once a week for a friendly call to lonely individuals, to help ease feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The Age UK Norfolk service, which makes weekly friendly calls to older people in Norfolk (or more frequently when required), has grown by 70pc since the pandemic began.

Jen Field, supporting and enabling manager from Age UK Norfolk, said: “Befriending services continue to face challenges due to rising cost of living and increasing demand and complexity for services.

"Since the pandemic there’s been a devastating rise in need.

"It’s important we have enough volunteers to support our befriending service to make sure older people get the support they need.

"That’s why we’re appealing to anyone interested in supporting our work.

"Our befrienders not only make such a difference to older people in our region but our volunteers often remark that they find their role incredibly rewarding too.”

Volunteer befriender, Ivor Rickwood, aged 90, won Inspiration of the Year at the Broadland Community at Heart Awards having spent more than 30 years doing charity work.

Lately though, Mr Rickwood, has been working with Age UK Norfolk, where he is changing people's lives through weekly phone calls.

Mrs Field said that Ivor is a "shining example" of a selfless and kind volunteer.

The Age UK manager said: “Ivor is a shining example to all, when you consider he is 90 years old and a carer for his wife.

"Yet he still finds the time to help as many people as he can.

"He has had a massive impact on the people he calls and has become an ‘absolute lifeline’ to many.”

*For more information on volunteering, contact Age UK Norfolk’s Volunteer Coordinator on 01603 785 210 / or visit Age UK Norfolk Telephone Befriending Volunteering opportunities.