Cafes and pubs are being urged to help tackle loneliness and end the stigma around it by hosting meet ups.

Braintree Council has launched its only version of “loneliness busting” Meet Up Mondays.

The scheme was launched in January last year by publican Mick Dore, who runs The Alexandra, in Wimbledon, and has gone nationwide.

Now restaurants, cafes and pubs across the Braintree district are being asked to offer a free snack, cuppa and a place to go for people wanting to socialise.

It is targeted at everyone who may feel lonely from new mums, to the elderly or to people who have moved to the district.

Firms are also urged to offer a table quiz or games as an ice breaker.

The move comes as the government launched its first loneliness strategy.

Studies have found up to a fifth of all UK adults feel lonely most or all of the time with evidence showing loneliness can be as bad for health as obesity or smoking.

Peter Tattersley, health and communities boss said: “In the same week the Prime Minister launches the Government’s first loneliness strategy we recognize the importance of trying to combat this problem in our own district.

“Three quarters of GPs surveyed have said they are seeing between one and five people a day suffering with loneliness, which is linked to a range of damaging health impacts, like heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Research shows that loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“Around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.

“By supporting businesses to open up their doors they are giving residents the opportunity to return at any time rather than just waiting for the next meet up.”

The first event took place on Monday at Cool Beans in Braintree and Bocking Gardens.

Rachel McMillan, owner, said: “I am proud to be the first venue in the district to offer Meet Up Mondays. We are a commercial business but we are a local business and we want to embed ourselves within our community.

“We are open anyway and a few extra cups of tea is something I am more than happy to offer if we can do our bit to help combat an important health issue such as loneliness.”

Any business wanting to host a regular meet up should contact the council’s community services team on 01376 552525.