A 'DEBILITATING' epidemic of loneliness has a devastating impact on older people in Oxfordshire, a charity has warned.

Age UK Oxfordshire predict that up to 11,000 older people in the county are facing spending Christmas alone this year.

Today, the Oxford Mail is launching the 'no one should have no one campaign' to encourage people to befriend and support older people across the county in the run up to Christmas and into the new year.

And hundreds of staff and volunteers from AgeUK Oxfordshire work every day to help some of the loneliest and isolated people in society.

Some 280 people rely on the charity's phone service volunteers who make regular calls which, for many people, is the only social contact they receive in a week.

Gesmi Beiris, 69, lives on her own in a house in Blackbird Leys and has no surviving family living in the UK.

Originally from Sri Lanka, her husband and son were killed in a road crash in the country in 1985.

Mrs Beiris moved to Oxford in 1989 and lived and worked as a nanny for a Headington family for many years.

Since the Oxford Mail first spoke to her in 2015, she says that ‘nothing has changed’ in her life.

Now retired, Mrs Beiris describes herself as lucky to have a house, a pension and her health.

But she admits to feeling lonely.

She said: “I live on my own, I don’t really have any one.

“My friends do not often come to see me, I understand.

"They are very busy with their family and I don’t wish to bother them.

“People are very busy and I say don’t worry.

"They have children and many responsibilities. Life is like this.”

The widow spends her days watching television or doing domestic chores and shopping for food and she goes to church on Sundays.

She is called twice a week by her phone friends Mary and Julie and enjoys the chats.

She said: “I like to talk and have company but usually I do not have any one.

“It’s nice to have someone to talk to.”

On Christmas Day, the lack of bus services will make it difficult for her to get around but she is hoping to get a lift to take her to the Christmas lunch held by the Oxford Food Bank at the King's Centre in Osney Mead.

If not she will stay home and cook for herself.

A report commissioned by the late MP Jo Cox before her death found that loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is deadlier than obesity.

The Jo Cox Loneliness Commission is calling for a 'minister for loneliness' to be appointed as part of a national strategy to combat the problem.

On Saturday, Age UK Oxfordshire recreated a living room scene in Bonn Square, opposite the Westgate.

An actor played the part of an older person siting in their living room alone on Christmas Day, the reality facing thousands of people across Oxfordshire.

Poetry readings from theatre group 'living the drama' also brought the issue home to Christmas shoppers.

Penny Thewlis, Age UK Oxfordshire's Chief Executive, said: “For many of those in later life, loneliness is an everyday experience.

"Chronic loneliness is debilitating both physically and emotionally but it can be prevented.”

The charity is organising Christmas lunches for people who have been bereaved in later life and is encouraging people to invite neighbours around at Christmas to share a drink or a meal.

All this week we will run articles highlighting the problem of loneliness and what you can do to help.