SOUTHAMPTON researchers are set to get a share of £1m for a study to help combat loneliness.

It comes as new figures reveal that around 40 per cent of people in the city feel lonely - ten per cent more than the national figure.

And just months after the Daily Echo helped boost offers of help on charity Communicare's befriending service - which has 170 lonely older people on its waiting list.

Now Southampton City Council has bought an £18k-a-year licence for new software that they hope will help lonely people access more events, services and activities.

Called Genie, the digital web tool was initially developed for people with long term health conditions to help them access local resources. Now it will be trialled with lonely residents after researchers say

people took up, on average, three new activities or resources over the course of a

year after using the programme.

Already in use by Solent NHS trust researchers say the tool saved £175 in the cost of treating the average person with long term conditions, mainly by reducing overnight stays in hospital.

Chief investigator Dr Rebecca Band said: “We know it can be really difficult to talk about feeling lonely – lots of people feel like others might not understand or that it is somehow their fault.

"People of any age can feel lonely for different reasons - even if they are surrounded by lots of people – and this can be bad for your health. This study will try to tackle loneliness by improving social networks and connections to the local community.”

More than a dozen researchers at three universities will work on the project which involves psychologists, social scientists, health economists, and training and support staff.

The team are also working alongside Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, Southampton City Council, Solent NHS Trust, NHS Southampton City and West Hampshire CCG’s, Radian (Housing Association), Social Care in Action (SCA) and Communicare to help identify people who may benefit from taking part in the study.

Melodie Walter from Communicare said: "We are happy to support where we can to ensure the proposed project leads to improving the city’s issues with loneliness effectively; as we are aware that this is becoming an increasing problem in Southampton demonstrated by our waiting list which stands at over 170 in need of our help.

"With just over 200 volunteers who supported 255 clients and 414 requests in January this year alone; the need for more volunteers to meet the city’s need is urgent. It is essential this happens through collaborative work among all local groups and organisations, which is what we hope to see happen through this research.”

Councillor Paul Lewzey, Mental Health Champion at Southampton City Council said: “We’d like to encourage people to volunteer with groups in their community that befriend those who may be lonely, including older people. We’ll be partnering soon with faith and community groups to help share GENIE with others.”

If you would like to take part in study email

To volunteer with community groups contact Tom Taylor, Volunteer Development Worker, Southampton Voluntary Service: