Time for a wee ramble

Ramblers Scotland has 56 walking groups across Scotland and the number is increasing. So what is it about walking that’s got so many people heading outdoors?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy activity that would improve your physical and mental health, lower your risk factors in a range of illnesses, give you a chance to enjoy quality time with old friends and to make new ones, and that you could do throughout most of your life? Well, there is, and it’s as simple as going for a walk.

Walking is an excellent all-round exercise. Almost everyone can do it, anywhere and at any time – and it’s free. You don’t need special clothing and it’s easy to fit into your daily routine. Older adults should aim to walk for around half an hour on most days of the week, but doing any exercise at all is better than nothing. If you’re unfit you can start slowly and build up gradually.

There are real health benefits from being more active; it helps protect the body from many illnesses and conditions, such as heart disease, strokes and osteoarthritis, and also helps to lift depression and improve mental health. But never mind all the health benefits, it’s also enjoyable. Walking helps you to collect your thoughts and appreciate the changing Lochwinnoch BP photo
seasons as you walk throughout the year, and it’s also a sociable activity. 
Walking in a group helps reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation and increases social contact. It also means you may be more likely to turn out on a cold morning, and to keep up the activity over time.

Ramblers Scotland has 56 walking groups across Scotland, all with walk programmes led and organised by volunteers, and they often also include social events. Non-members are welcome to go on a few walks for free before deciding whether you’d like to join us. You can be sure of a warm welcome and a good chat with like-minded people. As Dot, one of our members in Dalgety Bay, says, “I joined the Ramblers when I first retired as I was looking for something to do. I never expected I would get so much pleasure out of walking with my group. As well as being much fitter now and making lots of friends, I’ve loved getting to visit Scotland’s fantastic countryside.”

Cunninghame - New Lanark

If you want to explore your local neighbourhood, our Medal Routes project has gathered over 600 short, circular routes of 15, 30 and 60 minutes – bronze, silver and gold medal routes – from Dumfries to Shetland, which help you to get out and about. They are all available from our website. We also have a routes database, Ramblers Routes, which has route suggestions across Scotland, with shorter walks free to download for non-members.

For information on finding your local group, call 0131 472 7006 or email scotland@ramblers.org.uk. or visit our website

Sporting Memories – how an old leather football is bringing people together

Sporting Memories is a charity that works to support older people living with dementia, depression and loneliness by tapping into their passion for sport. Through encouraging people to share memories of sporting moments, the charity helps people to connect with others and with their past. 

Will Searle from our Communications team visited the Sporting Memories Group in Belshill-Orbiston to meet the group and find out more about their work.

Once the group is settled around a large table with their cups of tea, Norrie Gallagher, one of the two organisers, starts us off. An old leather football is given to a member who shares a story of a football match they attended. The ball is then passed around the group, with whoever holding it sharing a memory of their own. Norrie expertly goes around the room to see if it has struck a chord with anyone – do you remember that match? Have you been to an International?

Everyone has their chance to say their bit and bond with the group. Norrie leads the conversation, ensuring everyone who has come along is engaged and taking part. It’s great to see attendees who were quiet and withdrawn when they first came in, come alive reminiscing about their love of the beautiful game.


At one point, someone pipes up with the question – “Did I tell you my memory from Wembley? 1977…” And so comes a great story from when Scotland beat England 2-1 at Wembley. Fans had been told that the grounds were being re-turfed after the match and celebrating Scots took to the pitch to get their own piece of turf. The man telling the story recalled watching this all unfold and asking a fellow fan, who had his arms full of turf, what he was going to do if he was “stopped by the bobbies”. The fan’s response was that if the police stopped him, he would say it was his brother’s grass and he was just looking after it while he was on holiday!


This was just one of the many great stories filling the room with laughter over the course of two and half hours. There was good-natured banter about Lisbon Lions and Rangers Bears, memories from the war and a quiz about football team names.

It was great to see just how much this activity helped to make those who came along open up. What was also evident was the amazing camaraderie and how the youngest members were supported by older members, first timers by seasoned regulars.


Sporting memories groups are also not just great social activities, but have been really positive activities for people with dementia. The Sporting Memories Network even won Best National Dementia Friendly Initiative in 2014 by Alzheimer’s Society.

As Norrie and his colleague Margo were tidying up, they told me more about how the group works. They really emphasised how they couldn’t keep running the group without their valued volunteers. So if you love sport and are looking for a really rewarding volunteer opportunity check out www.sportingmemoriesnetwork.com to see what groups are operating close by.

Getting Online at 85

The 13th – 19th of October is “Get Online” week! Our Digital Communications Officer Emma Bisset visited a computer club held by Keeping in Touch Edinburgh (KiTE), to find out how the organisation is helping older people overcome their fears of technology and getting them online.

Technology has been part of my life for some time now. I’ve had to use email and the internet for work for years, and I regularly do my banking and shopping online. For many people going online is second nature, so it’s easy to forget that some older people never used a computer during their working lives. As an increasing number of services move to being more focused on their online activities, there is a fear that these people will be left behind.

That’s why organisations like KiTE are so crucial. KiTE work with older people to introduce them to the benefits and fun of being online, and work to alleviate their fear of technology. They offer a structured beginners course, 1-2-1 sessions and a more relaxed computer club. Viewpoint Housing Association provide funding for Old Farm Court Sheltered Housing to host a regular computer club, which residents can attend for free. I went to visit them recently to find out more.

Computer club members ably helped by EleanorI first spoke to a lady in her mid-eighties called May. She had never used a computer while working but is now a regular attendee of the computer club, having had a 1-2-1 session to get over her initial reservations.

She has now signed up to Facebook, which she uses to stay in touch with a friend in Ohio and share information with other older friends who are also members. “My hearing isn’t what it was and I need the telly on really loud, which probably disturbs my neighbours. I got free headphones for the telly from DeafAction which have really helped, so I put on Facebook that they did that so my friends knew as well. It’s great for letting people know your news and what’s going on.” May’s next goal is to learn how to make Christmas cards online so she can personalise and print off cards for everyone this year.

I also spoke to a gentleman called Jimmy who said the club has helped him find his way online. He goes online to plan trips down south. “I got a better deal on train tickets because I checked online so it’s good for that.”

Gina, 75 has found being online helpful for sharing things with her granddaughter. “She’s five and visited one day when it was raining. There wasn’t much to do and she was bored so we went online and watched the live camera of the panda in Edinburgh Zoo. She loved it and it’s something we can do together.”

One lady who was attending the club for the first time still had her reservations and said she found the session rather overwhelming. I noticed how the other members rallied round, reassuring her that they had felt the same on their first visit.


There is a real sense of the members being supported as they find their own way, with some members bringing their own laptops and even iPads. Some had clearly built up some confidence, only calling on KiTE volunteers if something unexpected happened, while others sat with a volunteer, being talked through a process.

People of all ages differ in how much they use technology and what they go online for. It’s great to see organisations like KiTE working to tackle the fear some older people have, and explain the benefits of the internet and digital technology to generations that are just discovering them.

One lady approached me at the end of the session to say “I always ask a lot of questions, but these volunteers are worth their weight in gold.” She chatted with the volunteers before packing up her laptop to leave, shouting as she left “Just remember, don’t get old!”001

Visit KiTE’s website to find out more about their work.


What becomes of the carer?

As a carer, losing the one you are supporting can be a double pain of bereavement and redundancy. Here, guest blogger Christine Rae opens up about her experiences.

Why am I writing this piece about caring?   The reason is simple – because when I became an accidental carer for my Mum I couldn’t find the information I needed to do the task effectively. With hindsight I suspect it was available, but just not in one place, and the conversations I had with others in similar situations seemed to bear this out. This article illustrates my experience and it acknowledges my gratitude for all the help I got from those people who time and again rescued me from the mire.

Christine Rae

Christine Rae

To me there are two types of carer, visible and invisible. The visible ones are easily recognised, generally wear a uniform and have had some specific training to equip them for their caring role. Invisible carers on the other hand, have in most cases had no training at all, relying on a combination of love, basic instinct, resourcefulness and sheer good luck to enable them to look after their loved one, and are recognized only by their relationship to the person they care for.

I’d hear people saying things like, “Caring is a steep learning curve.”  “It’s a strain sometimes, but what’s the alternative?” “A warped sense of humour helps!” “One day I’ll remember all the laughter we shared, then I’ll feel sad and guilty.” “Mustn’t complain.”   “I love him but I get so tired.” “Where’s the five minutes I promised myself?” “It’s very isolating.”

And what becomes of the carer after their loved one dies? There is the immediate pain and grief, the keeping up appearances in public, the eventual rebuilding of some kind of lifestyle, and superficially at least, they look as if they are managing, coping, doing OK. It is the same problem again. They have loved and cared for their relative, in many cases for years, and have suddenly been deprived of that ability. They are suffering the double pain of bereavement and redundancy, and as a result of a loss of purpose and focus, need help and support to rebuild their sense of self-worth once more.

I found that the most important thing was admitting to myself that I was feeling vulnerable and letting other people help me. Don’t feel guilty about accepting it, they would not offer if they didn’t want to become part of your life. Let your guard down, open yourself up and let the world back in. It won’t flood in, it will only come in as quickly as you need it to, and one day the person doing the helping and supporting will be you, the no longer redundant carer.


This is a ‘Soapbox’ article from our Advantage Magazine (p25). Soapbox columns do not necessarily reflect Age Scotland’s views or policies. To submit an article call Advantage on 0845 833 0200 or email advantage@agescotland.org.uk

Ending Loneliness and Isolation: Laughs, tears and shortbread

Part of my job is to organise the Cross Party Group for Older People, Age and Ageing (CPG) at the Scottish Parliament, and this month saw a very special one held on a topic very close to most people’s hearts. Everybody knows someone who is living alone. But what about those of us who live alone and are ageing? As friends around us start to leave this world, living alone can become more and more difficult, both mentally and physically.

For this sensitive topic, the CPG was fortunate enough to secure two fantastic speakers; Isabella Goldie, Head of the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland and Esther Rantzen CBE, founder of The Silver Line.


Isobella Goldie, Sandra White MSP, Esther Rantzen and Fiona McLeod MSP

Isabella began the meeting by setting the context of the hard-hitting impact that loneliness and isolation can have on older people.She made sure the group was clear on the stark differences between isolation and loneliness. Isolation, she said, refers to a separation from social or family contact, lack of community engagement or connection to services. Loneliness is subjective– it’s about how people feel about perceived isolation.

So how can we start to tackle this feeling of loneliness?

A few years ago, Esther Rantzen CBE, a successful broadcaster and a founder of ChildLine in 1986, had come to the realisation that despite her continuing busy lifestyle and being surrounded by family and friends, she was not only growing older, but also lonelier.

Esther explained: “I have come to the conclusion that loneliness, which absolutely is not the same as isolation, is in my view associated with loss.

“It can be loss of a partner, it can be loss of a job, it can be loss of sense, sight or hearing, it can be loss of a driving license, and it can be loss of mobility.

“But what it does, it draws in the horizons of your life and your front door becomes a barrier that becomes more and more difficult to cross because what it erodes is self-esteem and confidence.”

So what did she do? Well, being a woman of action, and with her experience of ChildLine, Esther was inspired to found The Silver Line – a helpline for older people which was initially trialled in the north of England.

On 25th November 2013, the service was launched UK-wide. In Scotland, the helpline is delivered in partnership by The Silver Line and Age Scotland as Silver Line Scotland.

It is a 24-hour, freephone helpline answered by real people – not machines – who are there to offer information, friendship and advice to older people all day, every day. Those at the meeting won’t forget the number – because Esther sang it to them – but for everyone else it’s 0800 4 70 80 90. Esther described one gentleman who, after his first call, described the feeling of ‘belonging to the human race’ again. The impact that one call a week can have on someone’s life can be that huge.

The significant and positive contribution that older people play in society is often overlooked. Esther was keen to highlight this, saying: “They are our national treasure, they are our resource – not just a series of problems. Have a look at the number of volunteers of 65-plus who keep our society going. Please do everything you can to lift the self-esteem of the older population’’ she added.

The meeting ended with a clip from Bob, a chatty 92 year old chap who was feeling desperately lonely after being widowed. He now calls The Silver Line. The video of his experience was humbling to watch and brought a tear to every eye in the room. For nothing will ever stop the pangs of heartbreak Bob experiences on a daily basis and nothing can bring back his beloved late wife Cath- but that phone call- that one, half hour phone call to a Silver Line friend, helps Bob to feel loved and wanted again.

Thanks to everyone who came along and to Moira Bayne from Housing Options Scotland who later tweeted ‘Had a great day @ScotParl listening to Esther Rantzen talk about @agescotland and Silver Line. Laughs, tears and shortbread. Perfect day’


The Silver Line Scotland is a 24 hour service providing free information, advice and friendship to older people. The number is 0800 4 70 80 90

Next CPG meeting will be held on Wednesday 11th June 12.45pm Committee Room 2 contact me at hannah.lister@agescotland.org.uk for more details.

Clearing the way for a better winter

A kind donation of 100 snow shovels from the Wilkinson store in Livingston was gratefully received by staff and volunteers at the Food Train West Lothian last week.

Wilkinson Livingston initially contacted Age Scotland’s fundraising department to make the generous offer, which they wanted to donate to benefit older people in the Livingston area of West Lothian. Alison Payne, one of Age Scotland’s fundraising officers, made immediate contact with local Development Officer, Laura Dunkel, to get some help with finding a member group who could make use of the shovels.

Wilkinson Livingston donate snow shovels

Martin (Age Scotland), Lorraine Thomson (Manager, Wilkinson Livingston Store), David Stewart (Wilkinson Livingston Store), Linda Lockie (Regional Manager, The Food Train) and the two volunteers from the Food Train.

Laura said: ‘I thought of the Food Train immediately when I heard about this donation from Wilkinson Livingston. The Food Train provide a really valuable service in West Lothian – they deliver groceries to older people to help them to remain independent in their own home. This service is even more valuable during the cold winter months, when older people can be anxious about the risk of falling in snowy or icy conditions.’

Linda Lockie, Regional Manager at the Food Train said: ‘We’re just about to celebrate our third birthday so the shovels are like an early birthday present to us! The service has gone from strength to strength over the last 3 years, and has proved hugely popular, we now have over 160 members across the region, and over 45 volunteers. These shovels will mean our volunteers will be able to get out and about to our members even if we do get snow this winter. We also plan to offer shovels to our members so that friends, neighbours and family members can use them to clear paths and driveways for them. Winter can be a time when older people feel more lonely and isolated and our volunteers bring not only groceries but increased social contact to the most vulnerable and frail customer.’

The Food Train always welcome any new enquiries from people interested in donating their time to assist in their local community, by becoming volunteer drivers, helpers, shoppers and Extra Service volunteers.

If you would like to volunteer or know of an older people who might benefit from the Food Train’s service, more information can be found by calling 01506 413013 or visiting www.thefoodtrain.co.uk.

Art scheme aims to draw older people out of isolation

Talented Iain Johnston (73) has spent a lifetime at the easel.  His work, which ranges from depictions of the American Civil war to comic book illustrations, has been published in a wide range of magazines – including many science fiction and UFO journals over the decades.

Outreach Artist Iain Johnston

Outreach Artist Iain Johnston is set to use the power of painting to help older people beat isolation.

But now the down-to-earth grandfather-of-six is joining the effort to help meet the challenges of an ageing population – at grass roots level. He’ll be the front man of a pilot outreach art scheme, which will initially run in Airdrie from the autumn.

Although it’s open to all over 65s in the area, a key aim is to involve older people who are at risk of becoming cut off from their community.

Iain is set to teach and encourage his trademark form of expressive painting. But he has the bigger picture in mind.

“I’ve been drawing since childhood after taking inspiration my Uncle William (Johnston), a newspaper cartoonist whose work appeared under the pen name Carmichael in the 1940 and 50s.

“Like him, I really encourage expression, but it’s not just about drawing and painting,” said Iain. “This is about bringing people together and art really is the glue that bonds them.”

Iain worked as a studio assistant at Bradford Art College in the 90s before returning home to Airdrie and plying his creative trade on a freelance basis.

VoEF discovered Iain’s talents after he’d participated in an innovative arts project “We’ve Come Along Way”  (which was part funded by Age Scotland and North Lanarkshire Council)  earlier this year. Developed by the  Voice of Experience Forum (VoEF), an independent organisation working throughout North Lanarkshire, the project aimed to involve older isolated people in art classes. These used a variety of painting and drawing styles, using a different materials and involving a number of different themes including “ aging in a positive context”, “challenging aging stereotypes”, “social inclusion of older people” and “contribution of older people to community and society”.

A key aim of  Reshaping Care for Older People (RCOP) is to provide more help and support to enable the growing numbers of older people to remain at home and feel involved in their community.

Older people themselves are also key to the collaborative approach and ever-dynamic Iain is only too happy lend his help. Iain, who is also a current member of Paisley-based writer’s group Men with Pens, added: “I can read a story and illustrate it so I’ll be encouraging that free association in the group.

“Projects like this act as an instant ice breaker between people who’ve never met before. They can also go a long way to beating the isolation trap many older people can find themselves in when loved ones pass away and circumstances change.”

Sandra Renicks of VoEF explained that Iain’s art classes will start with ten taster sessions at various community groups that already meet throughout the Airdrie area. Older people in the area, especially those living alone, are encouraged to visit.

The hope is to roll out the pilot scheme throughout North Lanarkshire – because Sandra has also witnessed the power of painting first hand.

“This project comes after a similar scheme earlier this year run by North Lanarkshire Council, in conjunction with ourselves, called Come a Long Way,” she explained.

“The project encouraged older people to paint significant events and people in their lives. It wasn’t just an emotional release but we found those involved would share their memories during the process – creating instant bonds with each other.

“Painting is a fantastic way of uniting people. That’s key to helping older people who may be living alone reconnect with those around them.”

Sandra Mackay, Programme Manager for RCOP in North Lanarkshire said: “A key aim of the RCOP programme is to strengthen local communities and this project is an excellent example of that process in action.”

For more information on the art programme contact VoEF on 01236 758855 or email voef@btconnect.com