TALKING cures the soul, according to Pepe Sanchez.

Her warm smile and knack for making a good cup of tea clearly go a long way to helping her be the successful operator of the GO4 community cafe at Old Heath Recreation Ground in Colchester.

And so when Colchester Council decided it wanted a venue to help it reach out to the town’s lonely people, she was the perfect hostess.

A month or so into their inception and the weekly Café Colchester and Friends sessions are thriving.

Perhaps that is not surprising given as many as one in 20 people always or often feel lonely, according to research by the Office for National Statistics.

Now the free sessions have been rolled out to nine other venues around Colchester, which last for up to two hours.

While the concept of a free cup of tea and conversation is simple, its implications are significant.

Pepe said: “This idea is originally from Southwold but they wanted to introduce it here.

“This is a residential area as well, it has a lovely park, the café is very friendly and safe and it is a lovely environment, especially for people who may suffer from mental health problems or who feel lonely or isolated as well.”

Pepe’s café, a social enterprise run by volunteers, is used to helping people with learning difficulties, the disabled and homeless people so she felt it was a great opportunity to expand the support to those who are lonely.

“Sometimes people get isolated for many reasons and want to see a friendly face.

“They sit down, have a cup of tea and talk about problems - sometimes people just need that.”

Pepe gave one example of a man who visited Old Heath’s Café Colchester and Friends, which runs on Monday mornings, a few weeks after his wife died.

“This gentleman was extremely nervous.

“Afterwards he was talking to us and said he was thinking of coming a week ago but didn’t have enough strength to get out of his house.

“But as soon as he came to the door and saw me, I was smiling at him, he saw a very kind face and he said all his stress went away.

“He decided to sit down and felt comfortable to start talking to people around him.”

She added: “When people feel isolated there are too many reasons why they feel that way. I believe talking cures the soul. Sometimes people need someone.”

And it is not just elderly people who have attended.

Others have included mums with small children or grandmothers looking after their grandchildren.

“It is very rewarding, to be honest,” Pepe added.

“It makes you feel full of joy that you helped someone.”

Pepe praised Colchester Council for the support it has given to her in running the sessions from her volunteer-led cafe, which has been at its current location for three years.

Mike Lilley, the council’s portfolio holder for communities, wellbeing and public safety, said: “Loneliness can affect anybody at any time.

“It’s not just the elderly and most often includes carers, those with poor mental health and young mothers.

“I’m really pleased we’re launching this new scheme and that it supports the aims and objectives of the Livewell initiative.

“I hope by bringing people together, we can help people be better connected to the communities they live in.”

Essex County Council also recently commissioned its own research into social isolation, which found residents believe the way to challenge loneliness is by building stronger, friendlier, more inclusive communities and little acts of kindness can make a difference.

The research also showed those people who felt better connected and had a sense of belonging to a place were less likely to feel lonely.

The county council has announced a new approach to tackle loneliness and social isolation in communities.

The emphasis is on helping communities build upon existing initiatives that already challenge loneliness and increase the sense of community in Essex’s towns and villages.

For example, it supports the Live Well Link Well Navigation service.

It is a free and confidential social prescribing service that provides practical or emotional support of a non-medical nature.

A team works in partnership with GP surgeries to help people access appropriate support within the community.

Recognising some people may want and need more structured help to tackle loneliness and feel part of their community, the county council has also funded a new service to promote social engagement called Essex Befriends.

It offers telephone, face-to-face and email befriending to carers, older people and those experiencing mental ill health or a learning disability.

John Spence, the county council’s Cabinet member for health and adult social care, said: “It’s time to talk about loneliness and recognise there are many small things each and every one of us can do to help people across our towns and villages feel more connected, supported and a sense of belonging.

“Working hand in hand with our communities is crucial as they understand how loneliness impacts on individuals and can design and build the support mechanisms that suit their community.”

n For more information about Cafe Colchester and Friends visit