People in Fermanagh who are lonely or isolated can now enjoy the company of peers and volunteers thanks to a £1,500 grant from Tesco.

The funds were awarded to Connect Fermanagh which was launched in 2020 during the Covid lockdown to provide a telephone befriending service and social events for lonely and mostly elderly service users.

Briege McRory, the project coordinator, said: “We live in one of the most rural and least populated counties in Northern Ireland and even after the pandemic, the community felt there was still a need not only for the telephone service but also for face-to-face activities to combat loneliness and isolation.

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“We always have a meal together or at least tea and scones, and different activities, such as crafts and presentations from local school choirs. In one of the events, service users even enjoyed a session with a singing tutor.

“Now with the grant from Tesco, we can afford transportation for the events.

“So many of our service users have mobility difficulties or disabilities and it can be a real challenge to get them to our activities.

“Now we can bring in a range of transport providers to help us, including Fermanagh Rural Community Transport, minibuses and even escorts for service users in wheelchairs to get them back into their homes.”

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The service relies on the help of 26 volunteers, having already benefitted almost 200 service users.

The project tries to match volunteers and service users to have something in common to talk about.

In addition to making more than 45 calls each week, the team of volunteers organise at least four events each year.

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Claire De Silva, head of community at Tesco, said: “We’re delighted that we can help groups like Connect Fermanagh.

“Stronger Starts invites our customers to use their blue tokens to vote for local schemes they feel will benefit people of all ages, and it’s so good to see the impact that the funding makes.”

Shoppers can support their local groups by dropping the Tesco blue tokens they receive at checkout into the relevant voting box as they leave the store.