£20m lottery fund to tackle 'lonely' elderly in Wales

Image caption, Actress Margaret John said she is busier than ever at 83

A £20m lottery package to reduce social isolation and loneliness of elderly people in Wales is being unveiled later.

Ruth Marks, older people's commissioner for Wales, said AdvantAGE was a "step forward" in improving quality of life.

The Big Lottery Fund is looking for voluntary projects, which aim to run between three and five years.

Gavin and Stacey actress Margaret John, 83, will launch the scheme in Port Talbot.

Ms John, who also stars in the BBC Wales comedy High Hopes, said: "I'm probably busier now than I've ever been in my career and it's been extraordinary these last few years.

"I've been lucky that my occupation has kept me busy and kept me going.

"Retirement certainly isn't a word that's in my dictionary and I'd be bored to death if I didn't have my work."

The actress starred as colourful neighbour Doris in the Barry-based hit comedy Gavin and Stacey.

She will join a group of older people in Aberavon, who attend a regular lunch club organised by Age Concern Neath Port Talbot.

Ms John, due to appear on stage in Calendar Girls in Cardiff in July, will also see the work of the lottery-funded Promoting Independence Through Neighbourliness project.

"I meet new people and work on new projects all the time," said Ms John.

"Keeping busy is the only way to keep your brain going and I'm a strong believer that a healthy mind makes a healthy body."

Chair of the AdvantAGE programme committee Fran Targett, said isolation can result from life changing experiences, such as retirement, bereavement and long-term illness.

"Wales has a higher proportion of older people over 50 than any other country in the UK.

'Fit for purpose'

"As we see in Margaret John, many older people view ageing as an opportunity and an exciting new life chapter.

"For others, however, older age brings challenges which, without support, can be daunting and lead to social isolation and loneliness."

Meanwhile, Ruth Marks said she believed the programme could contribute to overcoming isolation.

"We have an ageing population, and it is vital that services are fit for purpose," she said

Grants of between £200,000 and £1m will be available for projects, which either encourage befriending or social interaction, or represent the elderly and develop support services.

The closing date for applications is 29 October 2010.

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