A challenging year

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

AS always at this time of year as we approach Christmas, we begin to look back to check that our goals have been achieved.

But this year, that would be a futile exercise as all our plans and aspirations, prepared last December, were thrown into disarray just three months later.

Last December in this column we were looking forward to the final 15 months of the six-year Ageing Well Torbay programme which has seen a steady reduction in the number of over 50-year-olds who are lonely or isolated.

2020 was to be a year of consolidation where we built on our successes and put everything in place to ensure the work that we had helped start would continue without us.

We wanted to be certain that the lessons we had learned were shared so that others could replicate the successes and avoid repeating our failures that were inevitable using our test and learn techniques.

We wanted to leave a legacy for others to pick up and take forward, not just here in Torbay, but across the country as we all face the very real prospect of an ageing population where those over the age of 50 will outnumber those under the age of 50.

And we still want to do all of that, but we are currently running nearly 12 months behind in achieving it and the landscape in which we work has changed more than any of us could possibly have imagined.

It is easy to dwell on the negatives; we all know that parts of our economy has been brought to its knees, individuals lives have been changed beyond recognition and the effects of isolation on some has been devastating.

But there have also been some incredible positives. Back in February this column was bemoaning the seeming decline of volunteering, which as a concept appeared to have lost it shine.

How wrong we were. Within just a few weeks of that column appearing on February 28th, we were being inundated with people coming forward to offer their services on behalf of their communities.

These were indeed unprecedented times that required innovative solutions, and communities across the Bay rose to the challenge. Cometh the hour, cometh the volunteers.

The hashtag #TorbayKind rapidly became a part of our lexicon as stories were shared and celebrated and the spirit of human kindness flourished at every level – in neighbourhoods, streets and across communities.

Our regular work supporting the more vulnerable members of our society has also had to change to meet the challenge and much of it has had to be put on hold as we strove to find new ways helping each other.

But for all that, and despite everything our communities are stronger now than they were a year ago and new relationships have been forged where non existed before.

Like everyone else we hope that next year we will be able to return to the work we all love, and thankfully the National Lottery have agreed to fund us for another year to allow us to tie up the loose ends.

Hopefully, we will be able to reinstate all those coffee morning and socials that run every day in different parts of the Bay and we will be able to progress our work to achieve the World Health Organisation’s Age-Friendly recognition for Torbay.

Our Torbay Over 50’s Assembly has been ticking along quietly in the background and is now poised to join others of every age group to start the rebuild and support those who need our help most,

We have proved that we can help each other and we have proved that when things get really tough our strong communities come into their own and that is something we need to keep sight of as we move into 2021.

For all that we have endured in 2020, we have also got lots to celebrate and lots of people to be thankful for – the many volunteers, the staff of charities and voluntary organisations,  all of whom have worked tirelessly alongside Torbay Council and the Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust.

Between us, we have made sure that wherever possible no-one has gone hungry and no-has been left lonely.  Not on our watch.

The Helpline on 01803 446022, will be operating reduced hours over Christmas and New Year, from Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 2pm for two weeks from Monday, December 21st.