A young mother living in Belfast has the British Red Cross to thank for helping her tackle the loneliness brought about by being a new mum in a new country.
Simona Varaniute from Lithuania first visited Northern Ireland around seven years ago after an invitation from friends, and loved it so much she decided to stay.
The 27-year-old met her partner Martynas Leskys, 25, and moved a year and a half ago from north Belfast to the east of the city to be with him.
They had a son Sebastianas, who is now a year old, but with her partner working in engineering Simona was alone at home every day and found it difficult to cope and integrate with her community.
Simona said: “When my son was a few months old I couldn’t get out, the weather was bad and we had nowhere to go.
“We just had to stay at home all day long, cooking, cleaning, playing with my son – trying to make time fly. It was difficult not having another adult to talk to. It made me feel very lonely.”
Her health visitor recognised the problem and contacted the British Red Cross who helped her overcome the loneliness she had been feeling.
She said: “A lady from the British Red Cross came to my house to talk to me about what I could do with my son and how she could help me.
“She found new things for me to do – mums and toddlers groups – a chance to chat with other mums. Some of the groups were close to my home but I didn’t know about them.
“I’ve made friends through the groups. It’s great for me and for my son as well.
“I’d have been afraid to go by myself. Being from another country can make you quite shy sometimes.
“I’m a happier and more confident person now.”
She added: “Before I had my son I was working and going out with friends.
“When you have a child that all just stops. It is a big change.”
Simona had previously worked in a hotel and has recently returned to work in the evenings, balancing shifts with her partner who works during the day.
She said: “I’m back to work now in the evenings which is good to give me a break and have a balance between family and work.
“I don’t feel lonely at all any more.”
After releasing new research showing the extent of loneliness in the Province, the British Red Cross is calling on people in Belfast to send a message of support to someone in their local community who may be alone this festive season.
Until December 10, the Red Cross shop in Botanic Avenue, Belfast is offering a free Christmas card with every pack bought in store, and asking shoppers to show their kindness by writing a message to someone receiving support from the British Red Cross.
The cards will be sent to a local ‘Connecting Communities’ service provided in partnership with Co-op, which helps support adults in the community who are experiencing or at risk of loneliness.
The Red Cross has launched the initiative in participating shops across the country, after new research showed more than half of UK adults feel always, often or sometimes lonely.
The charity poll conducted by Opinium sought the responses of over 4,000 UK adults. Of those 110 people polled in Northern Ireland 33% said they often feel alone and like they have no one to turn to.
Almost half (47%) said their neighbours are like strangers to them while 39% of those who do have people they feel close to or can rely on say those people live far away from them.
More one in ten (12%) don’t have friends they feel close to or can talk to.
Last year the British Red Cross supported over 291,600 people in crisis across the UK, giving them someone they could turn to in their hour of need.
Elizabeth Boyd from the Red Cross’ Belfast office said: “Loneliness and social isolation doesn’t discriminate.
“Life circumstances can change in the blink of an eye, meaning it can happen to anyone, no matter your age or background.
“We all need someone to turn to in a crisis, but the findings of our research suggest that there are many people in our communities feeling they lack meaningful, human connections.
“Every one of us would want someone to reach out to us if we found ourselves all alone.
“People who need our help may be closer than we think, and could feel much more connected if we offer them our kindness.
“By sending a message of support to someone in your community who may be alone this festive season, you can help them know you’re thinking of them.”
For more information visit www.redcross.org.uk