They have been plugging away for two years, but volunteers visiting isolated people with reduced mobility for a cup of tea and a chat have finally been given funding.

The Alfriston Day Centre team now hope to expand their outreach service across Kingston to combat loneliness among the borough’s older population.

The issue has prompted ministers to intervene and one charity to declare a state of emergency.

Manager Diane Double said: “There’s people who never get off the chair, and they’re brilliant people who have fantastic brains, but it’s their bodies that have gone.

“It’s not that they’re lonely because they don’t know people. They get forgotten.”

Care Minister Norman Lamb told the Financial Times Britain had “inadvertently become quite a neglectful society” and that volunteers need to step in.

He added: “On our very streets we have people who live on their own, who don’t see anyone and whose relatives might visit once a month. What’s life like in between?”

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Alfriston Day Centre, in Berrylands Road

Trevor Lyttleton, chairman of Contact the Elderly, said the problem “has reached a state of emergency and must not be ignored”.

Conservative Councillor Julie Pickering, lead member for health, said: “It is obviously an issue that we need to address. We’re picking up on lessons learned from other parts of the country.

"Part of that generally is, for me, selling the services that we have to make sure people know they exist.”

Mrs Double said she feared Kingston Council’s Kingston at Home scheme, which aims to move people out of residential care into their homes, may increase isolation.

She said: “I think a lot of it has been done on a financial level. It’s more expensive to put people in residential care than to get a carer in at home.”

Last year nearby Newent House was closed, and residents moved elsewhere or to private accommodation.

The council saved about £900,000.

Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Liz Green said: “Generally speaking people have a better quality of life within their own home. That doesn’t mean they don’t need access to people.

"That’s one of the things the voluntary sector does better than councils – volunteers that go into people’s homes tend to have more time.”

  • For more information on volunteering or arranging visits to your home, call Alfriston on 020 8399 4289.

Alfriston’s newly-installed outreach manager, Tina Fry, still volunteers in the community, and has visited Gladys Wood in Surbiton for two years.

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Tina Fry and Gladys Wood

Former Royal Choral Society member Mrs Wood, 99, said: “It’s a wonderful service. There are people like myself who haven’t the means and facilities to get to Alfriston.

"They never see anybody from one week to the next. I would tell them to get in touch.”

Mrs Wood, who was a founding member of St George’s church in Tolworth, said she was “lucky” to have friends and neighbours who visit, but added: “Tina is wonderful. She brings me all sorts of news.”

Mrs Fry said: “I started out as a volunteer. I wasn’t working and you read stuff in the papers and think ‘That’s dreadful’.

"There are people who have lost real links in our community and they’re being forgotten.

“All they really need is a friend. It’s a mutual relationship for some of our volunteers. I get something out of it because Gladys is just a lovely person.

“Now we’ve got more capacity we really want to reach out to the whole of Kingston.”