Working together

By Sue McDermott, Programme Manager

One of the big challenges potentially facing us all as we get older is being able to live out our lives as we see fit, preferably in our own homes.

For years when we reached a certain age or infirmity choice was taken away from us by people ‘who knew better’. Just wrong.

Various well-meaning authorities colluded to decide for us what care we needed, when we needed it and crucially where we should receive it.

That has meant for many that they have had no choice but to go into a home where care  could be provided cheaper through economies of scale. Too often, business and budgets came first, people and feelings came a laggardly, second.

No-one stopped to ask the people at the sharp end – the older people themselves, did they really want to go into a home or could it be with just a little forethought and a little planning they could receive the care they needed in the comfortable, familiar surroundings of their own home.

Well, we are asking those questions now.

At Ageing Well and indeed in similar Big Lottery Funded projects around the country we have found, surprise, surprise that older people know best what they need, and feel quite right that they should be at the centre of any new services being developed.

They know what they want when they want, and they know where, when and given a choice, by whom it should be delivered.

In recent weeks we have been asking those questions, and we need help with the answers. In particular, we would like people in communities to be able to help themselves – in health/Governmental speak – Collaborative Peer Support.

Or put another way, in words you and I understand, how do we come up with something that will allow people to stay in their homes for as long as they want, receiving everything they need, when they need it?

How do we as a community ensure everything is in place and the support – be that the support of a friendly neighbour, a relative, a carer or other health professional, is available?

So, to break that down, during our ‘Food for Thought’ sessions last year, many of the older people we spoke to wanted to stay at home or remain as independent for as long as possible but recognised they needed additional support.

They did not necessarily need help with personal care, but help with domestic tasks like shopping or hoovering, changing curtains or lightbulbs, making meals, and befriending.

Some people missed the old style ‘home helps’ (remember them?) and also the ‘floating support’ that used to be available. For others they recognised that they sometimes wanted help with transport, driving or help with mobility and getting out and about.

And at the core of all this was the recognition that with a little thought, some planning and a can-do attitude, then stay at home could be about relatively simple things including adaptations/assistive technology, stair-lifts, and shower/wet rooms rather than baths.

With a bit of thought older stay at home people could perhaps have access to a low-cost pool of trusted DIY/gardeners/tree cutters, handymen – you name it, the help could be there.

Or can we even return to the golden days of neighbourliness where those living in the same street watched out for each other and helped where they could?

Not only would that be a great help, but it would also ensure isolation was dealt with at a grassroots level. It is not unusual in other countries around the world, and there is no reason why it should be here.

By the same token, many people over 50 identify themselves as being an ‘untapped resource’ and able to support their peers we just need to work out multiple ways of coordinating them.

There are very real-life problems, and we are currently running workshops throughout August in the hope of finding real-life answers.

If any of what I have written above resonates with you, please get in touch on 01803 212638 or email