A TELEPHONE befriending service pioneered in County Durham to help lonely older people is set to expand nationwide.

The volunteer Silver Talk scheme, set up in Stanley in 2012 with Lottery funding, is to open a branch in Liverpool.

The project, run by housing association Derwentside Homes, matches older or vulnerable residents with a volunteer.

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Regular phone calls take place between the two, providing comfort and company and allowing volunteers to alert residents to other organisations for additional support should they need it.

Silver Talk now has 39 volunteers working from offices in Stanley and Durham supporting around 150 service users.

Now the same support will be available to older people living in Merseyside after housing association Your Housing Group signed up to the Silver Talk project.

Your Housing Group Community Project Manager Janine Greenall said: "This is a fantastic project and provides a real lifeline for older people in the community.

"We’ve seen how successful Silver Talk has been in the North East and are looking forward to providing the same excellent service in Merseyside."

It is hoped that other housing associations will follow Your Housing Group’s lead and set up their own Silver Talk projects, with the scheme eventually available nationwide.

Already four other housing organisations in the East, South West and North West of England are in the process of signing up with others expected in future.

John Atkinson, project manager with Silver Talk, said: "We always knew the Silver Talk project had the potential to be successfully replicated across the country and it’s very rewarding to now see it working in another location as we knew it could.

"Our aim is for this to be a national project - we know that problems of isolation and loneliness are not limited to one geographical area, they affect older people across the country".