SPECIAL REPORT - Age UK provides the little things that make a difference

Peter Burgoyne with British Red Cross service co-ordinator Paula Morris. (1403311AM1)
Peter Burgoyne with British Red Cross service co-ordinator Paula Morris. (1403311AM1)

As people age and their family and friends have died or moved away, it can often be the little things that can make a difference, whether that’s answering letters, making a doctor’s appointment, or just having a cup of tea and a chat. JAMES METCALF finds out more about the services on offer in the Harrogate district.

Our rapidly changing society can often be overwhelming. Automated machines answering phones, self-service checkouts, a pile of letters - these things and many others are relatively recent changes that older people find difficult to deal with.

The isolating effects of the anxiety that is all too often a result of having to face these new challenges alone are detrimental to health and wellbeing, but there are organisations in the Harrogate district doing something to help.

Charlotte Seaton is a project co-ordinator with Age UK North Yorkshire and is responsible for the home secretary service and telephone befriending, meaning that some of the overwhelming aspects of growing older do not have to be faced alone.

She said: “People get very overwhelmed with paperwork and that can cause anxiety and depression, and our clients are often completely alone, having outlived friends and family or they have moved away.

“The more lonely people are, and the more isolated they are, the more likely they are to be suffering with undiagnosed depression, and that has an impact on health. People spiral down.

“We help in a practical way, but our clients also get a responsible, trained, and police-checked friendly visitor as well. It is not a befriending service, but what we find is that they often build up a really good relationship.

“As people age, for whatever reason, the find it increasingly difficult to keep on top of ther paperwork, and the beauty of the home secretary service is that, if we do get referalls, we can go in and help them sort that out.”

Jane Kaye is one such volunteer. Once a week she sits with service user Rita Powell, has a cup of coffee and a lively discussion and writes letters to Rita’s friends all over the world.

Rita, who is 89-years-old, said: “When I had my summer holidays my friend and I would take a guide, and for seven years I was taken around various places.

“It was the best thing I ever did, and now I have friends abroad and my volunteer writes letters to them for me. I have friends in America and Canada as well, and it is always lovely to see a letter on the mat.

“Life is still worth living because of Age UK. I can’t speak too highly of them. I have had the best of them, I really have.

“From the bottom of my heart I can’t thank them enough. I will always remember how kind and patient they have been. This way you feel alive.”

By providing the services older people really need but can no longer do themselves, organisations like Age UK North Yorkshire are giving them the opportunity to stay in their own homes and live as normal a life as possible.

This ability to stay independent is something older people across the Harrogate district feel is an important part of their lives, and help with paperwork, phone calls, and everyday tasks can be the only support they need.

If, however, they require a friendly face and a bit of company as well, the volunteers carrying out those simple activities on their behalf provide that crucial social contact that is often the only human interaction many older people have.

Charlotte said: “People are best off in their own homes. It is better for their wellbeing and for their health to be in familiar surroundings.

“What Age UK does is keep people independent in their own homes and increase their wellbeing and health for as long as possible. We try to deliver the services that help them do that.

“With one of our services our clients know that they don’t need to worry about the pile of papers that they can’t deal with due to arthritis or visual impairments.

“Our clients are all people and human beings, and as human beings they need human interaction. Age UK isn’t a cure all, but we can become an important piece of their jigsaw.”

Age UK’s Love Later Life campaign:

As part of its national Love Later Life campaign, Age UK is hoping to encourage people to think differently about getting older.

The projects taking place as part of this include information and advice services, individual support, mobility improvement, social activities, and bereavement support.

These will extend to the Harrogate and rural district as part of Age UK North Yorkshire’s pledge to tackle elderly loneliness and isolation.

CEO of Age UK North Yorkshire Alex Bird said: “We know that life’s road is not always an easy one, and age is different for everyone.

“Loneliness is part of a human condition that affects all ages, but older people are particularly vulnerable.

“Experiences associated with aging, such as loss of family and friends, poor health, decreased mobility and income, and greater geographical mobility of family members mean that older people become more socially isolated, potentially leading to increased loneliness.

“We hope that at Age UK we can be manay things to many people - a source of advice, information, companionship and support, and many other things.”

Following recent community care policies, which have focused on the importance of older people’s independence and ensuring they are able to stay in their own homes, the schemes taking place as part of the Love Later Life campaign allow older people to maintain social contact, make new friends, keep fit, and develop interests in new activities and hobbies.

Whether that means finding out more about aid-call personal alarms, going to a lunch club, taking part in yoga and pilates, or going to a book club, there is a support for older people.

There are also several befriending schemes in place to ensure older people feel that they are not forgotten or unimportant, and to ensure that their anxiety is lowered and confidence increased.

Age UK are, however, increasingly in need of volunteers to help make these projects possible.

Ms Bird said: “The key to many of our successes lies in our wonderful team of staff and trained volunteers who go that extra mile and make a difference to the quality of life for our clients.

“We offer a range of volunteering opportunities from acting as meeters and greeters at our social and ageing well exercise classes, to one to one opportunities as telephone befrienders or home secretary volunteers.

“We also welcome volunteers to help with our information and Aavice service, displays, and general administrative tasks.”

To volunteer, or for more information on Age UK services, call the Harrogate branch on 01423 530628 or email harrogate@ageuknorthyorkshire.org.uk

Peter’s story:

For 37 years Peter Burgoyne has had severe arthritis.

To begin with he could drive and walk around, but then 15 years ago he also went blind.

This, he said, has made it increasingly difficult to leave the house and maintain the crucial human contact he really needs.

“The longest time I never left the house was about 15 months, and I never went out of the front door,” he said.

“I could mooch about and drive a bit, and then when the eye sight startes going, you have got less incentive to go out and about.

“I can hardly walk at all really. From my chair to the end of my path is about enough.”

Peter, who lives in Pateley Bridge, is now a regular service user with the British Red Cross, who have given him the opportunity to leave the house again.

“I don’t have a lot of contact with other people, and that is why the Red Cross is proving very useful.

“They have a cinema in the village hall once a month, and I had fancied it for a while but I have never quite been able to make it work, but the Red Cross did.

“I ended up going to see a film that is half in Somali with subtitles, so it was not a great pick for a blind person, but it is not about the film. I have met some new people through going there.”

Providing people with the essential contact they need to continue living their lives as actively as possible is the Red Cross ethos.

They network between groups and organisations in local

communities, delivering services to the people who really need them in the rural parts of the county that are often the most isolated.