A NEW initiative launched to help fight the effects of isolation felt by residents within Gwent was launched in Torfaen last week.

'Ffrind i Mi' or 'Friend of Mine' has emerged as the name of the new befriending service established to help combat the issue of loneliness and its effects in the region.

The event - Time to Talk - Compassionate Communities – was held at the Pontypool Campus of Coleg Gwent on Friday, May 27.

"Loneliness is a major public health problem here in Wales. We can all help - one day it could be us,” said Sarah Rochira, the Older People's Commissioner for Wales.

The multi-agency and multi-generational event brought the community together with the aim to determine the extent of existing services, identify service gaps and start to shape how the new local service to tackle loneliness should look.

Throughout the day information outlined at the event indicated that loneliness has an effect on mortality which is considered to be similar to that of cigarette smoking by health professionals.

Many suggest that loneliness can be associated with poor mental health and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and dementia.

Isolation is believed to have a wider public health impact as well, and is associated with a number of negative health outcomes including mortality, morbidity, depression and suicide, as well as increased health service use.

"Loneliness is everyone's business," said Denise Llewellyn, nurse director of Aneurin Bevan University Health Board.

"I feel very privileged and humbled to hear people's stories."

The health board along with its partners will set up the model for the befriending service 'Ffrind i Mi' or 'Friend of Mine' and is on the lookout for volunteers.

Volunteers to become friends have made contact with the health board after using the #CountMeIn on Twitter and this will soon be made available to the wider community.

So far, the scheme has secured 140 people open to volunteering for the new service.