Age UK Bath and North East Somerset
Award amount: £60,000
Cook and Eat course
KT had always worked tirelessly for his community, first as ward councillor, and then as the first ever Mayor of Radstock Town Council. However, serious illness had a huge effect on both his physical and mental wellbeing. “Apart from the level of pain I experienced, and the fact that I struggled to walk, I also lost all confidence. I just sat in my chair on the verge of depression. When I attended my first walking football session I was nervous and awkward, I wasn’t my normal self-confident self and I didn’t know anyone there. But I was immediately accepted into the group. Walking Football has helped me beyond anything, my fitness levels have risen and mentally I also feel sharp. I’m happy to stand in a room full of people and talk to them.”
Organisation: Age UK Bath and North East Somerset
Age UK Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) is a local independent charity that supports older people by promoting well-being and helping them to stay active, retain their independence and maximise their quality of life. The objectives of the charity are to:
- provide a voice for older people and seek to challenge age discrimination, guided by the strength and voice of older people themselves;
- construct a strong network of volunteers and members who are active in the community;
- work together with members of staff to ensure that older people are as healthy, satisfied and comfortable as possible;
- and ensure that older people have the opportunity to participate and contribute as valued members of their communities.
Age UK B&NES has been experiencing increased demand for their services, with an estimated population of over 36,000 people aged 65+ in Bath & North East Somerset, c.3,000 of which have a diagnosis of dementia. The increased demand has put strain on their resources causing Age UK B&NES to be unable to strategically develop and improve their services to help them reach more ‘hard to reach’ older people over 75, who are susceptible to social isolation and loneliness. The effect of loneliness and social isolation on mortality exceeds the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and is thought to have a similar influence on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness also puts people at greater risk of cognitive decline.
A three-year grant was awarded to Age UK B&NES to help fund a new management post to enable them to better meet the needs of local, vulnerable and isolated older people by overseeing the Active and Enrichment service (classes, clubs and exercise), the day centres and the Befriending service. This role manages key service provision, using an holistic approach that looks at the needs of individuals and deciding which ‘package’ of support is best for them, with a focus on tackling loneliness among older people, increasing the support available to people with dementia and focusing on support for older men, who were severely underrepresented in their beneficiaries (constituting only about 10%).
Is it working?
The funded post was responsible for overseeing a number of projects including:
- Day centres – each week 150 people are welcomed to Age UK B&NES to three day centres. 87% of attendees live alone and 97% have reported that they have made new friends since attending the centres, which has helped to alleviate social isolation and loneliness.
- New Dementia Club – providing hands-on activities based on Maintenance Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (MCST) which exercises all areas of the brain. Research has shown that MCST improves concentration, mental abilities, memory and quality of life.One group facilitator said: “Stress and anxiety levels amongst some of the group have lowered, whereas confidence, a sense of achievement, self-worth, meaning and purpose have increased. One member who experiences depression and dementia informs us that she ‘feels like she is somebody again’ and that the group has lifted her from her darker thoughts.”
- Befriending – providing matches between lonely, housebound older people and volunteers with similar interests to conduct weekly visits. There are currently 100 successful matches between volunteers and isolated and lonely older people.
- Active and Enrichment Service – providing 33 regular clubs/classes with over 420 people attending a year. This service includes gentle exercise classes, e.g. Tai Chi and walking football, as well as singing groups, book clubs, art clubs etc. In a recent survey of participants of this service 63% reported being pleased to have the opportunity to make more friends, over 27% of those who reported feeling unhappy before now felt better about their lives, 50% said their general health was better, 18% said their they saw their doctors less and 26% reported fewer falls due to improved mobility.
- Improving support for older men – this includes the provision of three walking football clubs, Cook and Eat classes and the creation of a Men in Sheds project, which is now run independently by the men who attend.
One challenge of the project was ensuring sustainability of the Active and Enrichment service, as the costs of running this service are relatively high and difficult to attract funding for. Therefore, inspired by the work of Age UK Gloucester and the success of the Men in Sheds project, Age UK B&NES have enacted an organisational shift to empower motivated individuals in the community to set up groups which are rooted in the community, sustainable at the outset and are in the community’s full ownership. Age UK B&NES will create toolkits to support people to set up groups, connect them to the relevant support and create a directory of groups in the area for older people to use. With existing groups, participants are being supported to continue independently, allowing them to continue using Age UK B&NES’s premises and are being supported to become self-sufficient. The reaction from members and volunteers has been extremely positive as it reduces the risk that the services will be disrupted in the future.