A £954,000 fund will be launched this week to support North Yorkshire residents experiencing issues such as loneliness.

More than 100 representatives of voluntary and community sector organisations from across the county will meet at Thirsk and Sowerby Town Hall on Wednesday to hear how the Innovation Fund can be used for projects to improve residents’ quality of life.

Financed by North Yorkshire County Council and the NHS, the fund aims to support moves to transform health and adult social care in the county, by providing early intervention and prevention and reducing the need for referral to statutory agencies.

The fund will support projects to work with residents who have a higher than average chance of experiencing loneliness and isolation, help people to remain in their own homes and schemes to reduce the risk of falls.

Interventions such as befriending services, which focus on groups such as elderly people being discharged from hospital, are viewed by the council as being a relatively low cost way of reducing pressure on health and adult social care services in a county with a rapidly rising elderly population.

Knaresborough-based firm Your Consortium, which will manage the fund, said the extent of the problems of loneliness and social isolation in the county remain unclear, it has been estimated about ten per cent of people over the age of 65 in the UK are lonely all or most of the time.

Community groups say the problem is often worse in rural areas, where 23 per cent of the population are over retirement age compared to 18 per cent in urban areas.

In 2012, there were 47,496 people aged 65 or over living alone in North Yorkshire, 7,386 of whom were from Hambleton and 3,483 from Richmondshire.

By 2020 the county is predicted to have 57,362 residents aged 65 or over living alone, 9,171 of whom will be in Hambleton and 4,298 in Richmondshire.

The programme is open to community and voluntary organisations that deliver across the county and successful projects will demonstrate improved health and social outcomes as a result of local preventative activities.

The council’s public health and prevention executive member, Councillor Don Mackenzie, said the investment was a key part of its wider drive to help people to maintain their independence, and to encourage communities to care for their residents.

He said: "I am all too aware of the effects of loneliness on health and social care, and that overcoming isolation represents a major challenge especially in a rural county."