FOR Ada Ridsdale, isolation and loneliness became unwanted companions during her husband Harold''s illness and after he died.

But the 93-year-old from Newport, who goes to the city centre for a coffee each day for the chance to talk to someone, is fighting back.

After being referred to the innovative Aneurin Bevan University Health Board-run Ffrind I Mi project, Mrs Ridsdale is now volunteering with the scheme, in her turn supporting others who feel isolated and lonely.

"I wanted to give something back because this has really helped me," said Mrs Ridsdale, whose husband Harold died in 2014, aged 91.

Mrs Ridsdale had been his carer for more than a decade after he developed dementia, and says she "lost touch" with friends as she devoted herself to looking after him.

"You see less and less people, and when he died, I was on my own, which is how a lot of people end up," she said.

"I became very depressed. It's an awful thing, to have no-one to talk to."

Mrs Ridsdale's daily trips into Newport for a coffee now have an added value, as through Ffrind I Mi, she meets another woman who has been similarly isolated and lonely.

"We meet every week for a coffee and a chat. It's good for both of us.

"But there are an awful lot of people who don't have that, and that is very sad."

Mrs Ridsdale's experiences place her among an estimated half a million people in Wales who, according to evidence gathered for a report by the Assembly's health, social care and sport committee, feel lonely often or always.

That roughly one in six people in Wales have these experiences is shocking, shameful and extremely concerning.

Committee members who spent months gathering evidence on the impact of isolation and loneliness think so, calling it one of the most significant issues facing the older generation in Wales.

The report states that it is "disappointing" the Welsh Government will not publish a strategy to tackle the issue until 2019.

"It isn’t good enough and we call on ministers to speed up that timetable," said committee chairman Dai Lloyd AM, at the launch of the report at Horton's Coffee House in Newport.

"The effect of loneliness and isolation is profound, it can have both mental and physical consequences.

"The evidence we heard about the benefits of inter-generational contact is encouraging and we would like to see more research in this area to properly evaluate the benefits.

“We have also seen and heard about outstanding examples around the country of voluntary and community groups coming together to support people.

“We want to see greater stability of funding (through three-year funding programmes) so that individuals and organisations delivering such excellent work on the ground can be confident in being able to provide these vital services long term.”

The committee was told that a lack of social interaction is as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The extent of the problem could be much worse than currently assumed, as some people are too ashamed to admit they are lonely - and neither is it confined to the elderly .

The committee recognises too, that though the report focuses on older people, the issue also affects "young people, service veterans, young/new parents, the recently bereaved, people with chronic conditions, carers, lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people and people from some BME (black and minority ethnic) communities", and has pledged to do more work during the coming year.