The charity we have chosen to support this year is the Royal Voluntary Service. Money raised from our partnership will help fund their North Somerset Good Neighbours service.

The Good Neighbours Service offers practical help that can make all the difference to older people - whether it's collecting a pension or a repeat prescription, walking the dog or changing a light bulb. Often family members might live too far away to visit regularly so Royal Voluntary Service Good Neighbours provide valuable company and friendship as well as making sure the older person is safe and well.

Good Neighbours will spend perhaps an hour a week either in person or over the phone in the company of an older person. Sometimes classes - from IT to tea dances to Tai Chi - are run as part of the scheme.

Louise Richards, 33, took a career break to move to North Somerset to be with her husband. An article in the local community magazine, Gordano Living inspired her to consider volunteering with the Royal Voluntary Service:

“I had time and I’d always got on well with older people so I went to see Sharon Donkin, Service Manager for North Somerset Good Neighbours and she paired me with Francis. We just clicked straight away, and now we quite often go to the pub for a chat. It’s good fun.”

Louise visits Francis once a week usually on a Wednesday afternoon for 2 hours or longer, and has noticed a big difference since she started visiting him, he seems a bit happier, more willing to socialise and come out of the apartment to meet Louise and the other residents.

“There’s definitely a ‘feel good factor’ for both of us, I take my Jack Russell puppy Rocky and he sits on Francis’ lap and enjoys the attention while we chat about everything from West Bromwich Albion football team to history.”

“Stepping into Francis’ world was a real eye opener for me; I suppose I was a bit naive. I didn’t realise how many people lived on their own, and become isolated and lonely. It’s lovely to be able to help and enjoy myself at the same time.”

Louise and Francis have been meeting regularly since April, he says:

“I love seeing Louise, I look forward to seeing her every week. We always have a laugh and a joke, and we go to the pub for a pint of bitter or sometimes we stay in my flat and have a cup of tea. Rocky comes over too, he gets more cuddles than I do.”

“Louise’s visits are a lifeline. I was all churned up after losing my wife two years ago, which I am still trying to get over, and at the point of feeling very lonely and being by myself for long periods of time. Louise has made a big difference to my life.”

Francis and Louise