THERE’S an old lady who lives three doors from me. I’ve lived on the street 18 months and have spoken to her about four times.

I felt rather ashamed of this recently when my niece told me about her neighbour, who’s in her eighties. “She’s always in the window when I walk the dog, it’s like she’s waiting to wave to me,” said Ellie, who decided to visit the elderly lady and bake her some buns. “She said her family only live two miles away but she hardly ever sees them.”

According to Age UK, 225,000 older people often go a whole week without speaking to anyone. For a growing number of people, particularly in later life, feeling lonely can have a significant impact on their wellbeing.

Loneliness can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is linked to depression, sleep deprivation, impaired cognitive health, heightened vascular resistance, stress and mental health problems. In the UK, 3.6 million older people live alone. Age UK figures show that about 225,500 people over 65 don’t meet up with or speak on the phone to their children, other family and friends more often than once a week. Nearly 40 per cent of people surveyed said they’d had periods of feeling lonely, and invisible, and when asked what would make them feel more confident outside the home, they answered: “Someone smiling or saying hello when I’m at a bus stop or in a queue.”

A friendly “How are you?” is something most of us take for granted, but hundreds of thousands of older people in the UK will spend today alone, with no-one to share even a few words with.

This week was Older People’s Day, which saw the launch of a partnership bringing together organisations supporting older people in the district. The aim is to strengthen their voice and contribute to strategies affecting them, and to make the district a place “where older people are recognised, valued and celebrated”.

This shouldn’t just be left to voluntary and public sector organisations that are already supporting older people. We can all do our bit.

Age UK has joined up with Cadbury on a Donate Your Words campaign; with 30p from each limited edition chocolate bar sold in supermarkets going to the charity to help provide vital services and support when older people need it most. The campaign encourages us to pledge to reach out and have a chat with older people in our communities.

It doesn’t take much. Stop to say “Hello” in the street. Call an older relative. Check on an older neighbour. Ask how their day has been.

Retirement, bereavement and ill health mean many older people spend far less time in the company of others than they’d like. We’ve all felt a bit lonely at times, but chronic, everyday loneliness and isolation can affect the way people see themselves, making them feel invisible and forgotten.

We should value our growing ageing population, and make them feel valued.

Last week, in the space of three days, I met an 82-year-old man who was a teenage spy, infiltrating Russian military operations during the Cold War, and an 89-year-old woman who survived the Holocaust by fleeing Nazi Europe as a child. I’m often amazed by the hidden life stories of older people I encounter.

We pass old people in the street with no eye contact, and walk past their homes without a second thought. But by making a simple effort to talk to them, we not only make them feel visible, that they matter, we can also learn from them, and discover the often surprising adventures of their lives.

I LIKE the idea of a pub where mobiles are banned. Pubs are, after all, social places to relax with conversation and banter. Sitting in silent isolation, hunched over a phone or laptop, seems out of place.

But, with pubs closing at an alarming rate, it seems daft for Bradford pub The Shoulder of Mutton to ban electronic devices. The brewery says the old city pub should be a “haven for social conversation” - great in theory, but the ban is driving regulars away. “We’d like our pub back,” said one, claiming there’s no difference between reading a newspaper over a pint and reading on a phone or iPad.

To have a future, pubs need younger people, so banning phones is unrealistic. Maybe a ‘phone-free’ space, like the old tap rooms, would be the way to go, rather than a blanket ban.

* IT was all going so well for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Their South Africa tour was a PR success...until Prince Harry released a scathing attack on the British tabloid press.

His strongly-worded statement, claiming Meghan is a "victim" of the Press, comes at a time when the media has given their tour favourable coverage.

Sorry, but they can't have it both ways. This couple use the Press when it suits them, yet throw hissy fits when something is printed that they don't like. They need to grow up.