If there is one thing we learnt from the pandemic, it is that the strength of our relationships sit at the heart of what makes us happy and well. Loneliness is something I care deeply about because the bonds that tie us together also bring us the deepest joy.
When people do not feel those bonds, they struggle. When this happens repeatedly, our neighbourhoods and public services struggle too.
That's why I have been focusing my time over the last few months on visiting brilliant local groups set up to tackle loneliness and why I have launched the Friendship Project this week.
With the Friendship Project, I'll be bringing together our brilliant local groups like the Westway Centre, CAMEO and the Tandridge Voluntary Action Group to share the work of their heroic volunteers in combating loneliness in East Surrey.
I hosted the first networking session, and I was so encouraged by the number of wonderful volunteers who took part. Through these networking sessions we will share stories, ideas and updates about what the groups are up to.
In the first session we were joined by the former Loneliness Minister, Seema Kennedy, who spoke about her work with the Loneliness Commission and the importance of local volunteer groups.
As part of the launch, I also paid a visit to the Caterham & District University of the Third Age.
The u3a is a wonderful UK-wide movement of locally-run groups who provide a range of opportunities for retired people to come together, try new projects and learn new skills. I was so impressed by the variety of different interest groups that members can get involved in, from cookery to table tennis, Mahjong and French.
I joined them at the Royal British Legion in Oxted to have a crack at taking down some skittles, talk about how their organisation works and discuss how they could benefit from my Friendship Project.
I will also be fundraising so that the Friendship Project can support these wonderful groups. The money will go directly to help them do what they do best - tackle loneliness by creating friendships.