HELENSBURGH and Lomond is already well ahead of the game after the Scottish Government announced the launch of a draft strategy to tackle loneliness and isolation.

That, at least, is the view of members of Grey Matters, the award-winning group formed to provide meeting and socialising opportunities for people aged over 60 in the area.

A consultation has begun on the new national strategy – one of the first in the world – which aims to look at the causes of social isolation and loneliness and how they can be addressed.

But according to Grey Matters members, who meet in the town every Saturday morning and go on regular day trips and weekends away throughout the year, communities elsewhere in Scotland have a lot to learn from Helensburgh’s example.

Helensburgh resident Bryan Fleck, 88, who was one of Grey Matters’ founder members when the group was established six years ago, said: “Grey Matters is one of the best things that’s ever happened to Helensburgh. They organise coach trips away as well as regular Saturday meetings, which is something I’d definitely struggle to do if Grey Matters didn’t exist.”

Mr Fleck’s partner, Helen Colwell, 75, added: “You can be lonely in a crowd, even if you’re a couple – especially if you spend 24 hours a day, every day, in each other’s company.

“I consider myself active and fit, but Coming to Grey Matters is an important opportunity to mix with other people.”

But Ms Colwell questioned whether there was a need for the government at a national level to get involved in tackling the issue.

She said: “I get heartily sick of the government trying to tell me what to do and how I should do it. To me it’s almost a Big Brother thing and I really don’t think they should be interfering.”

In contrast, Grey Matters member and community volunteer James Woods, 70, said: “I think there is a need for a strategy.

"here’s a lot of people who need support to feel they are part of their community, and it’s easy to say government shouldn’t be involved when there’s already lots going on, like there is in Helensburgh.”

Grey Matters’ work won the charity the Jess Barrow Award for its campaigning and influence at Age Scotland's 2017 awards ceremony last April.

The award was specifically given in recognition of the group’s efforts to support older people in Helensburgh and Lomond by tackling loneliness and isolation.

Launching the consultation on the Scottish Government’s draft strategy, Jeane Freeman said: “Social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone – at all ages and stages of life. We know there is also a link between loneliness and poor physical and mental health and that this can impact on everyday life.

“We are leading the way when it comes to tackling this and will be the first country in the UK and one of the first in the world to develop a national strategy to address loneliness and isolation.

“The Scottish Government has, quite rightly, an important role to play but we want communities and society to lead it.”

“We believe communities themselves are best places to ensure people who may be at risk of becoming isolated or lonely can access the support they need.

“Now we want to hear from you about what is important in tackling these issues.”

“I would encourage everyone to have a say on this very important issue.”

Grey Matters members will give their views on the draft strategy at an community engagement event in Oban on February 19; you can also have your say online at tinyurl.com/isolationstrategy