Our seventh and final year – Ageing Well Torbay

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communicaitons Lead

AGEING Well Torbay is now entering its seventh year – which is an unexpected bonus created by the coronavirus crisis.

Last year like so many things, we could not continue with our core work with the over 50’s across the Bay because instead, we put all our resources into the Torbay Community Helpline.

Fortunately, our funders, the National Lottery Community Fund, gave us their full backing, recognising that the Helpline was an essential service, helping not just the over 50’s but everyone in the Bay.

They also recognised that there was still work to be done and therefore agreed to extend our funding for 12 months, allowing us to further our work and help bring our communities back to life, after more than a year of lockdowns and tiered restrictions.

All of which means we are now poised to continue some fantastic work with thousands of older people in the Bay – and another bonus of the pandemic is that we are now in contact with many more of them than we were before all this started.

As our efforts shifted to the Helpline, we were working with around 1,700 people on a regular basis, helping reduce loneliness and isolation in all three towns in the Bay. But we now know of many more that we look forward to working with as we return to ‘normal’.

From the beginning, we have worked towards reconnecting communities and analysis by academics from Plymouth University have produced statistics that show we have managed to do exactly that.

People that we were lucky enough to come across before the crisis generally met with others more frequently – both their own families, old friends and new acquaintances, in a nutshell, they got out more.

Another one of our aims was to increase people’s sense of value and purpose, and again we can show that Ageing Well Torbay has had a positive impact on health and mental wellbeing.

Perceptions of ageing have improved, and more people are now convinced that they can continue with activities regardless of age. Fortunately, given the last twelve months, the number of people volunteering or intending to volunteer has also increased through the programme.

People, some of whom were feeling side-lined and powerless, now feel empowered and able to use their skills, knowledge and expertise for the benefit of not just themselves but for others. Or put another way, they no longer feel part of the problem, but part of the solution.

Visits to hospitals and doctor’s surgeries have also fallen significantly, indicating that people feel better overall, which is not just a benefit to the individual but also to the health system, saving the NHS millions of pounds.

At the core of the work done in communities are our Community Builders who bring people together and help them find solutions to often long-standing problems, but the real effort comes from people themselves.

It doesn’t matter if it is organising a coffee morning, an afternoon tea dance, yoga on the beach, bowls down the pub, a craft session or something as complex as the annual Ageing Well Festival, which attracts up to 2,000 people – the effort and inspiration come from the people themselves.

The Torbay Over Fifties Assembly (TOFA) is another project that came out of discussions with older people who decided they needed a stronger voice at decision making tables around the Bay.

TOFA is now established and over the next twelve months will evolve to encompass having a say on health, transport, wellbeing, employment, social inclusion and communication.

It is part of the legacy of Ageing Well, a legacy of which we are all very proud and intend to keep working at as we come out of lockdown and our activities restart, because there is still much to be done. All the work that has gone before must be anchored for the future.

Ageing Well is one of fourteen such schemes across the country that has been experimenting in ground-breaking ways, and we feel that we now have at least some of the answers, and others around the country are looking to Torbay to learn how we did it.

For those that remain sceptical, having read this far, there is one last fact that might change your mind – for every £1 spent by Ageing Well Torbay, Plymouth University calculate that £1.62 of social value has been created.

In our final twelve months, we expect that figure to increase considerably. Watch this space.