LONELINESS is emerging as one of the major health issues of our time.

Depression, sleep problems, impaired cognitive health, heightened vascular resistance, hypertension, psychological stress and mental health problems are all associated with loneliness.

And then, according to Age UK, 1.9m older people in the UK often feel ignored or invisible and the same charity predicts there are very high risks of loneliness in those over the age of 65, based on census data, in a number of Basingstoke and Deane wards.

So the scale of the problem is huge and could grow as we live longer.

But one coffee shop in Oakley is doing its part using an idea we can all get behind - getting together over a cuppa.

Jolly Olly's, in Oakley Lane, set up a Friendship Club around a year ago with the plan being that time would be set aside in the venue for people who are feeling lonely to be together.

Jo Webber, former teacher and the owner of Jolly Olly's, explains: "I was listening to the radio and there was a programme about loneliness and how it is something we do not confront or talk about.

"I thought if I set a club up, people could come along and make friends and then they would meet up at other times.

"Oakley has the Men's Shed which inevitably mostly men go to, and then it is mostly women who come to the club.

"I'm very lucky as I have got people who come along and will be the chatty ones - they are always there and will make sure people are welcomed.

"We have had one or two young people come as it is inclusive to all people as loneliness affects all ages.

"When we first set it up, we had puzzles and games and crosswords and things like that laid out. But people who came just wanted to talk and generally ignored everything else laid out!"

The club is held on the third Wednesday of every month from 2.30pm to 3.30pm. The next meeting is on April 17.

Transport can also be arranged for people who live locally. Call Jolly Olly's on 01256 782658.