Older People’s Champion: what’s in a name?

Guest blog by Cllr Elaine Thornton-Nicol, Older People’s Champion, Scottish Borders Council


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When I was elected as a Councillor in 2017, I had been employed for 16 years in the voluntary sector, the last four specifically managing services aimed at improving the lives of older people, so I suppose I was the best choice when Scottish Borders Council was looking for nominations for the Older People’s Champion.

This role is ambassadorial, authority-wide, non-political and an honour.

There is no budget line attached to this role so there is no cost to the council.

When I agreed to the nomination, I asked for a role descriptor, because there was no point in me bumbling about the Borders hoping I am doing what is expected of me.  Bizarrely enough, there wasn’t one, but one was provided very quickly.

At this point, please remember I was newly elected and had little knowledge of the machinations of my own local authority, let alone the others.  I assumed that every council had an Older People’s Champion.

I thought I would be able to join the network of thirty-one other champions, some of whom would be in their second term, who would be able to share their knowledge and offer opportunities to take their learning to the Scottish Borders.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.  There are some who have the role but the councillor with the title is not proactive.  Some authorities claim to have an Older People’s Officer, but no description of what they actually do.  Others again have nothing and no one specifically tasked with ensuring that the voices of Older People are heard at every level.  I have to thank Simon Ritchie of Age Scotland and Diana Findley of the Scottish Older People’s Assembly for supporting me on this journey of discovery.

I see my role firstly as a listening one.  The best people to shape and inform Older People’s services are the older people who will use them.  Their voice must be heard.

I work with officers across the council to feedback on various issues and concerns that older people have raised. And I must say they are listening, supporting and, where possible, acting.

There is an aspect of this role that involves sitting in meetings.  It could be anything from listening to third and voluntary sector organisations as they try to learn to work more closely, commenting on proposed services, helping others to understand the need to find out what older people need, want, miss and, let’s be very truthful – don’t like.

I’ve been involved in a range of activities in my role so far. These include, among many others:

  • Exploring the creation of an Older People’s Directory for the Borders
  • Organising dementia training for every elected member of the council
  • A seat on the Borders Community Transport Service Board
  • Supporting the council on campaigns aimed at older people, including Flu Vaccine uptake

I am the face of the Council to Older People, and I am proud of that.  I want to be the best voice I can be for them.

At every Council meeting, my fellow councillors are used to me referencing an older person in my speeches.  I want us to keep our Older People at the forefront of our minds when discussing and debating services.

My role also entails supporting the Council on campaigns relating to Older People – recently I had my photo taken receiving my flu injection to encourage the uptake and thus hopefully prevent illness

If there was a network of thirty-two elected members who were proactive Older People’s Champions for their local authority, listening to our Older People, feeding through to Councils and the Minister for Older People and Equalities, imagine the knowledge and information base we would have.  How much faster we could respond.

So here is my challenge to everyone in Scotland –

  • Contact your local authority
  • Ask if they have and Older People’s Champion
  • Ask to meet with appropriate officers if they have no OPC and share the role descriptor I use
  • Encourage them to use this opportunity to put Older People at the heart of what they do
  • Push them towards that network that can share skills, knowledge and learning.

This is the chance to take the first step on what I know will not be a short journey – change is not easy for any of us.

And lastly, please remember, an Older People’s Champion is not necessarily an Older Person – they could be as young as me!


Age Scotland is calling on every Scottish Local Authority to appoint an Older People’s Champion. For more information, please contact the Age Scotland Policy & Communications team on 0300 323 2400 or email communications@agescotland.org.uk.

 

Whatever later life brings, we’re here to help

Rachel is an adviser with the Age Scotland helpline. She recently had a caller who lives on her own in a private rental property and is of state pension age. The caller was finding money quite tight and spoke to Rachel about getting a benefits check. Rachel identified £90 a week in housing benefits that the caller wasn’t aware that she could claim. The caller was also able to get the entitlement backdated and so will receive a lump sum to help her. That extra money will make a real difference to her quality of life.

Navigating entitlements and helping callers access them is just one of the ways that our team can support older people, their families and carers. The Age Scotland Helpline is the flagship advice service for Scotland’s older people to help with any challenges they may face.

Our Community Connecting service is also based within the helpline. Volunteers work to combat loneliness and isolation by supporting older people to explore interests and take up new hobbies. Through regular calls of support and encouragement and by doing research into what is available, our volunteers help older people to get involved in lunch clubs and social activities in their local area. There is no typical caller. It could be someone who has recently retired and wants to pick up a new hobby. Or it could be someone who has been socially isolated for months and is ready to take that first step and meet new people in their area.

One caller who got in touch said that her life had been turned upside down by the death of her husband. She felt incredibly isolated. She had never contacted a helpline before but was looking for any kind of support she could find. Through regular calls our volunteer was able to get to know the caller’s interests and encourage her to try a local club. The caller went on to sign up for a befriending service as well as an I.T. class to help her develop skills online.

Later life can bring many challenges but it also brings opportunities. If you or someone you know could benefit from the support offered by our helpline or community connecting teams, please get in touch on 0800 12 44 222. It’s free to call and open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

We’re here to help.

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Books, chats and Big Knit hats

Many of us can’t imagine going for weeks without speaking to another person. Unfortunately that’s the reality for thousands of older people across Scotland, who are socially isolated and dealing with the horrendous experience of loneliness. 

For these individuals, services like the Falkirk Community Trust’s Home Library Service can be life-changing. The service delivers books, audio books and large print materials to any person living in Falkirk who is unable, for whatever reason, to go to one of their eight libraries. The service promoted the Big Knit campaign to their users and at the end of last year we had already received nearly 1000 little hats of all shapes and sizes from them – just amazing!

One of these incredible knitters is Marion Deans. Marion’s husband sadly passed away last year and as Naomi Kenny from the Falkirk Community Trust informed us, by being involved with the Big Knit, Marion felt she was able to knit through her grief as well as contributing to meaningful causes. Naomi also told us that Marion is proud of the hats she has knitted and we have to say she definitely should be!

Naomi from the Falkirk Community Trust with Marion who has been taking part in Big Knit

Naomi from the Falkirk Community Trust with Marion who has been taking part in Big Knit

By making sure that people are still connected to their libraries, often hubs of local communities, the home library service arguably is helping to prevent loneliness and isolation. Campaigns like the Big Knit help us at Age Scotland work with similar projects and make sure that those who are unable to, or perhaps less likely to, get out and about don’t feel isolated in their own home. It’s much better to dissect the plot of the latest Scandi-noir book you have read with someone, even if it is lovely Dave who delivers you books, than mull it over on your own.

That’s why, we are asking you or anyone you know who loves to knit to get involved in this year’s Big Knit and help us make sure that wee discussion over book is a possibility for everyone in Scotland.


Find out how you can get involved in the Big Knit here: http://age.scot/BigKnit

Find out more about the Falkirk Community Trust’s Home Library Service.

 

 

 

Consultation – what’s the point?

Age Scotland’s Policy Engagement and Campaigns Officer, Simon Ritchie, spent 2018 consulting older people in Scotland on transport. He reports here on his findings.

“Is this actually going to change anything?”

As I toured Scotland asking older people for their views on transport, this question came up a lot. My task was to work with Transport Scotland, the transport arm of the Scottish Government, to make sure that older peoples’ interests were accounted for in the new National Transport Strategy (NTS).

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Simon Ritchie – Age Scotland’s Policy Engagement and Campaigns Officer

People had taken part in consultations before, they said, and it never seemed to change anything. However, as the consultation process went on, and after some reflection, I know the answer: yes, this will change things for the better. Let me explain.

Scotland’s population is ageing. The number of people aged 75+ is set to double in the next two decades. That’s great news – people are living longer, healthier lives – but as the demographics of our society changes, so too must our infrastructure if it is to remain fit for purpose. If the transport system doesn’t work for older people, it doesn’t work. Full stop.

So what works, and what needs to change?

Through a series of twenty transport workshops in every corner of Scotland, I and the civil servants I brought with me learned a great deal. Some findings were not surprising:

  • 2/3 of older people say they use public buses frequently
  • Reliance on cars is more prevalent in rural areas
  • The top three reasons for travelling are shopping, socialising and attending medical appointments.

Amongst the more striking findings were that

  • 1/3 of older people use public transport to commute to voluntary work – offering their valuable time, skills and experience to society.
  • 1/3 of older people say they’ve experienced difficulty getting to a medical appointment because of transport problems.
  • 1/2 say they’d use public transport more if services ran more frequently, and 1/2 of those living in rural areas say they’d take the bus if services ran later in the evening. Indeed, several older people who cannot drive said they felt under curfew in the evenings due to having no transport.

We now have a much better idea of what older people think about transport, and what they think should change. So how will this information and insight be used?

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Firstly – all our findings have been passed on to Transport Scotland in full. Already, many of the policy proposals we have put forward have been adopted into the draft NTS. From late 2019, the NTS will be the document that all levels of government should refer to whenever they make a transport-related decision. Age Scotland will hold them to it.

Secondly – we are using our findings to shape our position on the Scottish Government’s new Transport Bill, which gives Councils more power to improve local bus services. So there is a broader use for this information.

And finally – consultation matters because older people’s involvement in policy development keeps government on its toes and older people’s interests on the agenda.

A huge ‘thank you’ to all who took part in the 2018 Age Scotland transport workshops around the country. It’s been worthwhile and we know that the Scottish Government is listening and acting. If Age Scotland is a vehicle for change, it’s older people who are in the driving seat.


For more information please visit the Age Scotland website or contact Simon Ritchie – Policy Engagement & Campaigns Officer at Age Scotland – at simon.ritchie@agescotland.org.uk or on 0131 668 8047

The Big Knit is back!

Striped, spotty, glittery…it’s that time of year again where we receive bags full of little woolen hats of all shapes, sizes and colours. Yes, that’s right – the Big Knit is back! We have already received close to 20,000 hats and are so grateful to everyone who has taken part in the campaign so far. The final deadline is the 31st July 2019 so we are really excited to see what other wonderful creations we receive!

Many of our ‘Big Knit knitters’ are Age Scotland member groups and we’d like to shine a spotlight on them and the amazing things they do. One of these member groups is Forever Young, based in Renfrewshire. It is a sheltered housing group that does a wide variety of activities such as keep fit, coffee mornings and of course, knitting! Residents have been meeting over a cup of coffee and nattering away while creating some beautiful designs.

Last year the group knitted over 2000 hats for the campaign, with many residents becoming competitive over who could knit the most! This year they are back it again, having already knitted a fabulous 1900 hats, with the aim to knit over 3000! If the competitive streak of the resident’s is similar to last year, we are sure they will smash that target.

Forever Young’s group coordinator is Sally Logan. Sally’s mother is a member of the group, joining last year after suffering a stroke. For those living on their own in sheltered accommodation, groups like Forever Young give them the chance to socialize and reduce feelings of isolation. Sally told us that knitting hats for the Big Knit gave her mum focus and stopped her from sitting in on her own.

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Nessie, a member of Forever Young, has knitted over 1500 hats so far!

Think about it this way, would you want to spend most of your time sitting alone in your room or would you rather have a wee blether with Mary from three doors down about who got kicked out the Rovers Return this week? We’re sure it’s the latter so, if you knit or know anyone who does please get involved with this year’s Big Knit Campaign! You can have a chat and a cuppa while making some lovely little hats that will ultimately help support groups like Forever Young across Scotland.

 


Find out more about the Big Knit on the Age Scotland website

If you know anyone in the Renfrewshire area who would like to get join Forever Young, contact them on 01505 328864 or email Sally at sally.logan@renfrewshire.gov.uk

 

Help Age Scotland become Edinburgh Airport’s chosen Charity for 2019!

We have some very exciting news – Age Scotland has been shortlisted to be Edinburgh Airport’s chosen charity for 2019!

If Age Scotland wins this partnership, funds raised by Edinburgh Airport will enable us to significantly develop our Community Connecting service, which works to draw older people from the isolation of their homes.  The service typically offers support and encouragement to older people who’ve lost a sense of purpose and social interaction since retiring, or through bereavement – helping them to take small steps initially to re-engage with others in their community, improving wellbeing.  We match individuals to activities based on their needs and preferences, facilitate introductions, and provide encouragement until their confidence grows. This important service helps individuals integrate back into their local community which significantly reduces feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

The partnership would also help us to raise awareness of Age Scotland as an organisation and the range of support we offer over 50s across Scotland. Our mission is to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow older. From our Independent Living Programme to the Age Scotland Helpline, from dedicated Early Stage Dementia and Older Veterans projects to our work with employers to create Age Inclusive Workplaces, we are doing a lot but with this partnership, we can do so much more.

Between now and the 10th of December Edinburgh Airport staff are being asked to vote for the charity they want to support during 2019 – and the charity with the most votes wins. This is a fantastic opportunity for Age Scotland as an organisation and we need your help to win.

It’s really easy.

Work for Edinburgh Airport? Please consider voting for Age Scotland.

Know someone who works for Edinburgh Airport? Encourage them to vote for Age Scotland.

No connection to the airport? You can still help! By sharing our social media posts across your network you can help spread the word about this fantastic opportunity. We’ll be working to gather support across Twitter, Facebook and Linkedinso please keep a look out.

Thank you for your support!

Let’s celebrate those making a difference in your community

Every day in communities across Scotland there are individuals making a positive difference to the lives of older people. Whether it be through volunteering, running local groups and services or campaigning for change, these dedicated individuals put their time and effort into making sure the older people in their local communities and beyond can love later life.

We believe the dedication of these inspiring individuals deserves to be recognised. Cue the Age Scotland Awards!

Celebrating those making a difference

Each of our award winners has a short film produced about them and is invited to our National Conference to receive their award after a showing of the film. Previous guest awards presenters have included BBC Broadcaster and Journalist Jackie Bird and Singer-Songwriter Eddi Reader.

The 2019 awards will be presented at the Age Scotland National Conference, held in March at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow.

The 2019 award categories

Our Jess Barrow Award for Campaigning and Influencing recognises political or awareness-raising campaigns that have made an impact on the lives of older people. Our 2018 winner was Walking Football Scotland in recognition of their nationwide campaigning to get more people moving by playing a walking version of the beautiful game.

 

The Patrick Brooks Award for Best Working Partnership is for partnership working between two or more organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to addressing the needs of older people. The 2018 award recognised the fantastic work between the Health and Social Care Partnership and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Podiatry Service in the running of Toe to toe footcare. The service is helping older people access foot care services that would not otherwise be available and the chance to have a chat with the practitioner means service users can be referred to other services quickly and efficiently.

 

Our Services for Older People Award recognises an individual or group who have provided an innovative service run by, or on behalf of, older people which has addressed the issue of loneliness and isolation and/or improved health and wellbeing in later life. For the 2018 award, Roar – Connections for Life impressed the judges with their huge range of services from keep fit classes to fall prevention efforts to dancing and lunch.

 

The Age Scotland Member Group of the Year Award recognises a member group whose activities have championed the needs of older people and had a profound impact on their members. Dalbeattie Men’s Shed won the award for 2018. The Shed provides a comfortable space for men to congregate, enjoy some banter and put their skills to good use (or learn new ones!).

 

Our Volunteer of the Year Award celebrates a volunteer who has championed a group or organisation to benefit the lives of other older people or on behalf of older people. In 2018 we congratulated Gladys Cruickshank who runs the Alford Car Transport Service. Coordinating 30 volunteers, the service Gladys runs has helped thousands of people get to medical appointments and other commitments since 1999.

 

Lastly, we have the Age Scotland Inspiration Award. Our inspiration award is open to both individuals and groups – celebrating either an inspiring older person or a group who has supported or enabled older people to love later life. In 2018 we celebrated Mary Walls of Kirkcaldy. She inspires so many people with her warmth, her kindness, her caring attitude and her determination to see older people in Kirkcaldy lead an enjoyable later life.

 

We also had a group winner in 2018 – the Scone and District 50 Plus group. The group offers a huge number of activities, tackling loneliness and isolation and letting people learn new skills and meet new friends.

 

Feeling Inspired?

Do you know a local champion, group, or service doing amazing things? Nominate them today!

The deadline for nominations is Friday 30th November. Find out more about how to nominate at www.agescotland.org.uk/awards